When you hear the words “wildlife crime” you likely picture African poachers stalking an elephant herd across an open savanna or a lone rhino wandering through the trees. Or perhaps you think of a teeming Eastern marketplace with merchants hawking ivory or horn powder to buyers looking for luxury decorative goods, Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients, or for live exotics destined for a life in captivity as pets, or slaughtered animals (or parts thereof) to be served as gourmet dishes.
This perception of the illicit trade of wildlife, and especially of threatened or endangered species, is not inaccurate — indeed a majority of the world’s illegally traded wildlife originates in Africa and a huge percentage of the animals or the products made thereof are bound for markets in Asia. But that’s only part of the story, and in fact, it’s arguably the smaller part of the problem in the modern era. Why?
Because today, the biggest marketplace for the illegal trade of wildlife is the web.
Earlier this year, IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare) released a report that lays clear just how global a problem cyber wildlife crime really is and shatters the perceptions that illegal trade in animals and animal products is strictly an African and Asian problem. Their report, titled Disrupt: Wildlife Cybercrime – Uncovering the Scale of Online Wildlife Trade focused not on the continents of Africa or Asia, but instead on four specific countries: the UK, France, Germany, and Russia. And to further illuminate the scope and scale of the problem of online wildlife crime, they focused their assessments on a single, six-week period.
During the month and a half-long period of 2017 that IFAW studied, in those four countries alone there were more than 11,770 protected specimens offered for sale. And 80 percent of the specimens on offer were live animals. Of these, reptiles constituted the largest share, with turtles, tortoises, crocodilians, and other such species accounting for 55 percent of the total live animals for sale via online marketplaces or social media platforms. Rare and endangered parrots represented the next largest percentage of the offerings, with big cats and primates also for sale in substantial numbers. Ivory sourced from elephant trunks constituted 11 percent of total potential sales.
Overall, during the six week period, the calculated potential revenue was almost four million USD overall. And keep in mind this report was focused not only on a short period of time, but only in four countries out of the nearly 200 nations on earth.
IFAW works with multiple online marketplaces, social media platforms, and hundreds of police and other government enforcement agencies around the world to spread awareness of cyber wildlife crime and its proliferation and to stop the online sales of endangered animals and illegal animal products.
But without support from people like you and me, the illegal online trade of wildlife won’t stop any time soon.
So, what can you do to fight cyber wildlife crime? The first step is the simplest: don’t buy animals or animal products online. At least, don’t buy these specimens if there is even a shred of doubt as to their origin, their legality, and the nature of the seller.
It takes a network to defeat a network. Poachers are part of larger criminal organizations & supply chains. To stay one step ahead of these criminal networks, we created #tenBoma: a groundbreaking wildlife security initiative. https://t.co/7jP6x6l4q6 #EndWildlifeCrime pic.twitter.com/khXYWZ5x8H
— ifaw (@action4ifaw) October 6, 2018
Second, if you see an add or posting you feel may be promoting illegal wildlife sales online, notify an enforcement agency or reach out to IFAW directly. You can also be active instead of passive, looking for potentially illegal online sales of wildlife or threatened animal products by searching sites ranging from eBay to Craigslist to Facebook to Etsy for dubious posts and ads.
Third, the more money the good guys have to stop the bad guys, the better for the animals. Donating to IFAW or other like-minded organizations is a fine thing to do with a few bucks, if you can spare them.
And finally, you can get involved yourself, joining an organization fighting wildlife crime as a volunteer or even as a full-time job. But be ready for long hours and lots of travel.
For those who want to be more than an armchair wildlife warrior, sign up to track and spot rare, elusive wildlife, which also helps to combat poaching and wildlife theft at the source.
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