New Report Highlights Wildlife Cybercrime

A herd of Asian elephants walking through the Kui Buri National Park, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand. © Thomas Cristofoletti/WWF-US

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The wildlife trafficking market is, unfortunately, alive and well, despite national and international protection. An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found nearly 1,200 advertisements for almost 2,400 animals or animal products for sale online over the course of six weeks despite protection under U.S. and international law.

  • The most common types of advertisements were for elephant ivory (44%), taxidermy and trophies (27%), and live animals sold as exotic pets (19%), according to the new report.
  • Almost half of the species advertised for sale are listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

And these numbers are just a snapshot — the investigators only recorded ads with identifiable species. 

Why This Matters: Illegal wildlife trade increases poaching, harming both the animals and their habitats. “The loss of wildlife from illegal trade is devastating species that are a critical part of the complex web of life which we rely on for clean air, climate change mitigation, clean water, flood mitigation, soil health, and other critical ecosystem functions,” IFAW Campaigns Officer Mark Hofberg said. 

Complex policies across different countries and species can make it challenging to regulate wildlife trafficking online. The report highlights ways the U.S. government can take action, including requiring the proper documentation to sell protected species and funding enforcement agencies to expand their digital toolkit for disrupting wildlife cybercrime.

More from the Report: 

  • Eighty-one different species were identified across the ads, and 82% of the ads were for mammals. 
  • Half of the ads for trophies and taxidermy items were for animals found outside the U.S. in the wild. 
  • Exotic pets, especially turtles and tortoises, represented a smaller percentage of sales but sold for a much higher dollar value. The demand for exotic pets “has skyrocketed in recent years, which is a worrying trend” — and is likely one of the reasons for an increase in zoonotic diseases jumping to people. 

Go deeper: Read the full Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight report here. 

Spotlight on Elephants: Almost half of the ads in the report were for elephant ivory, a decline from 73% in 2008 when IFAW’s previous report on the online wildlife trade was published. The percentage is still high given the laws and regulations passed since then, but the sellers have adapted. In this year’s report, 63% didn’t use the word “ivory” to describe their product, and 34% claimed their product was exempt from national and/or international regulations. The impacts of the ivory trade are detrimental to the elephants themselves and the broader ecosystem they are a part of.  

As Mark Hofberg explained, “Elephants create turnover among plant species in the savannah, disperse seeds, and create microhabitats simply by being extremely large, moving long distances, and knocking things over. Many species rely on their behavior for food, dispersal, and habitat. Without elephants, the savannah ecosystem is not as productive or rich, which negatively affects the potential ecosystem services provided.”

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