Wanted – Dead or Alive, Grisly Wildlife Cybertrade Exposed

Wanted – Dead or Alive, Grisly Wildlife Cybertrade Exposed
Monday, 24 November, 2014
London, UK

A murky multi-million pound trade in wild animals and their parts is booming across online marketplaces, with questions being asked as to the legality of many advertisements offering endangered species for sale.

A shocking report released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) shows how thousands of endangered species are bought and sold on the Internet, many advertised without any form of supporting documentation.

Wanted – Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade reveals that, in early 2014, an intense six-week investigation found a total of 33,006 endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and products for sale via 280 online market places across 16 countries.

In the UK, websites hosted 1,087 online advertisements offering a total of 1,603 items for sale including ivory and suspected ivory, turtles, tortoises, owls, exotic birds, monkeys and parts and products from elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, alligators and big cats. The items were valued at more than £300,000. Over two-thirds of adverts were for wildlife parts and products rather than live animals.

Since 2008, ivory and suspected ivory listings on UK websites have risen by 47 per cent from 279 to 409. The most dominant site for sales was eBay with 674 ads, where one seller posted 58 ivory and suspected ivory items on the site during the six-week investigation.

79% of total advertisements suggested some claim to legality, with most ivory sellers stating their items were antique. However, only six advertisements offered any supporting proof of origin/legality of a proposed sale.

“As poaching reaches alarming levels, wildlife cybercrime poses a sinister, silent threat to endangered species, including elephants, reptiles and birds, enabling criminals to go about their grisly business with anonymity,” said Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of IFAW.

Downes said more than 100,000 elephants had lost their lives to ivory poachers in the past three years; while in 2013 more than 1,000 rhinoceros were killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa alone.

“This new IFAW report found that ivory or suspected ivory made up more than 32 per cent of all wildlife animals and products for sale, while reptiles came in a close second at over 26 per cent. Live animals for sale featured in 54 per cent of the adverts, and 46 per cent were for parts and products of wildlife. The value of the items investigated totalled nearly US$11-million (almost £6.5m),” said Downes.

IFAW found the legality of almost 13 per cent – 1,192 - of the 9,482 advertisements investigated was sufficiently doubtful to warrant turning these over to law enforcers for further examination. However this may only be the tip of the iceberg as investigators were careful not to deluge enforcers with reports of potential wildlife crime. The IFAW investigation focuses on the ‘surface-web’, namely open-source websites commonly referred to as online marketplaces, where products are freely available to the public.

Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said the numbers and demand for live animals, parts and products found by the Wanted – Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade investigation varied greatly from region to region.  

“What is clear is that online marketplaces should protect endangered wildlife by working with police and customs to catch wildlife cybercriminals, banning the sale of goods made from endangered wildlife and informing their customers about the poaching crisis and the laws against illegal wildlife trade. We recognise the efforts made by some marketplaces in using the information provided by IFAW, running enforcement programmes and by cooperating with the authorities.

“At the same time governments need to introduce stronger legislation that specifically targets online wildlife crime and must encourage and support their enforcement agencies in making sure wildlife cybercriminals are apprehended and prosecuted,” he said.

eBay has introduced even tougher preventative measures on its site as a result of cooperation with IFAW and other organisations, and this year will take tougher sanctions against sellers who flout eBay’s policies on wildlife products.

eBay Director Wolfgang Weber commented: “eBay does not tolerate illegal wildlife trade on its site. In addition eBay policies regarding ivory are stricter than the law and generally prohibit all ivory products. eBay is committed to an ongoing programme of strict enforcement working closely with IFAW as well as law enforcement. 

“Acting on information from IFAW and other organisations, we have been able to put new measures in place to prevent sellers from listing items of concern on the site, and in very many cases we are able to remove listings before a sale is made, and then take action against the seller.  The sellers who list these type of items intentionally try to circumvent the controls in place, for instance by listing items using code words, but nonetheless we have been able to significantly reduce the number of items that they actually have been able to sell. In order to even better address this issue we will apply stricter sanctions against sellers who intentionally circumvent our enforcement,” said Weber.

IFAW’s investigation specifically targeted the sale of species listed on Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which regulates and restricts the trade in wildlife and their parts and products. Many of the 280 online sites monitored either didn’t ask customers to demonstrate that their trade met with national laws, or else the provisos were hidden to the extent that customers simply wouldn’t be aware of them.

Worldwide, the illegal wildlife trade is not only a threat to wildlife but also to national and global security, and to social and economic development in the countries where it occurs. Wildlife crime ranks among the most serious, dangerous and damaging of international crimes along with human trafficking, drug running and illegal arms sales. Illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated US$19 billion (almost £11.5bn) a year.


The IFAW report, Wanted – Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade can be downloaded from www.ifaw.org. To learn more about the ivory trade, download IFAW’s digital magazine Unveiling the Ivory Trade

Notes to Editors:

While all other advertisements were logged according to species, it was not possible to do this in the case of ivory as it derives from the teeth and tusks of various animals, including walrus, elephant, hippo, whale and narwhal species, used in the carving trade.

There were challenges identifying some ivory items as these were apparently sometimes disguised using code words, particularly on sites prohibiting the sale of ivory. IFAW worked with an ivory expert to identify these items down to the species level where possible. However, in some instances, it was not possible to be certain which species was the source of the ivory.

For more information, photos or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling in the IFAW UK Press Office on 020 7587 6708, mobile 07917 507717, email csterling@ifaw.org or Amanda Gent on 020 7587 6725, mobile 07860 755876, email agent@ifaw.org. Alternatively visit www.ifaw.org

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are available at www.ifawimages.com

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Press Contact

Clare Sterling (IFAW UK)
Contact phone:
020 7587 6708
Contact mobile:
07917 507717
Contact email:
Amanda Gent (IFAW UK)
Contact phone:
020 7587 6725
Contact mobile:
07860 755876
Contact email:


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy