Online ivory sales investigation uncovers increased profiteering from endangered species

For the first time a New Zealander has been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced for illegally importing ivory. Image source: UK NWCUEarlier this month, we saw the first ever ivory trading conviction in New Zealand with 58 year old Jiezhen Jiang being charged under the Trade in Endangered Species Act and receiving a fine of 12,000 New Zealand dollars on the 10th of July.

Tragically tens of thousands of elephants are being massacred each year to fuel the demand for ivory and shockingly Jiang not only said he knew that elephants were being killed but also thought that purchasing these items would be a good investment as he believed they would increase in value.

Thankfully the efforts of international law enforcement agencies meant Jiang learnt the hard way that illegal trade in ivory comes with a high penalty.

Enforcement officers from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), Ministry for Primary Industries and New Zealand Customs Service and the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), Gloucestershire constabulary, and the UK Border Force were able to combine forces and uncover that Jiang was buying ivory items from England and Portugal while also selling on some items to people based in China.

Sadly this is another example of how the internet is being used to make money from the death of endangered species. Dylan Swain, from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, was report as saying that “there is an increase in wildlife products on the internet, including ivory. […] trading on the internet is so easy, people are often not aware of the regulations.”

This is something the International Fund for Animal Welfare has long recognised following our own repeated investigations into wildlife trafficking online. The Internet has become the world’s biggest marketplace, one that is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is without boundaries, largely unregulated, free and anonymous, providing easy opportunities for criminal activity.

IFAW works around the world to address the threat posed by the illegal and biologically unsustainable sale of wildlife and wildlife products over the Internet working to support law enforcers in their efforts to capture criminals; pushing for website companies to ban the trade in endangered species on their sites and calling for stronger laws, where necessary, to tackle the unique nature of online wildlife trade.

Our recent efforts include supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) “Operation Wild Web”—a coordinated undercover law enforcement operation which sought to bring illegal wildlife traffickers to justice. IFAW employees worked with USFWS to search marketplaces, forums and classified ads on the Internet for suspicious wildlife sales and report activities to taskforce team leaders around the country.  After just 14 days of tracking, “Operation Wild Web” resulted in 154 “buy/busts”—30 involving Federal wildlife crimes and 124 for violations of State wildlife laws.

IFAW would like to recognise the hard work of the New Zealand, UK and the US enforcement agencies for their commitment to protecting endangered species through tackling illegal wildlife trafficking both on and off line. Thankfully many other police and customs agencies across the world are also following suit.


Click here to learn more about the many IFAW efforts to fight illegal wildlife trafficking.

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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