Endangered wildlife trafficked via eBay, other online markets
International Fund for Animal Welfare
August 16, 2005
African elephant numbers plummeted from 1.3 million to as few as 625,000 during the 1970s and 1980s due to poaching to supply a rampant illegal ivory trade. Many populations are still threatened by poaching for ivory today. Right: Confiscated carved ivory products in Kenya. The pictures are courtesy of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the organization that published Caught In The Web [PDF dowload]
An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reveals that vast quantities of wildlife products and live animals are bought and sold illegally on the Internet a lucrative trade that is driving the world’s most endangered species to the brink of extinction.
Every single day thousands of wild animals and animal parts from live chimpanzees and huge ivory tusks to tiny dried seahorses are illegally traded in cyberspace. IFAW conducted a three-month investigation which showed that, in a single week, over 9,000 live animals or products were for sale on English-language websites, chat rooms and the popular auction site eBay. At least 70% of the products were species protected by international law. IFAW’s investigation was restricted to just five categories of animals — live primates, ivory items, turtle and tortoise products, bags and fashion items made from endangered reptiles and wild cats — so the findings represent a fraction of the total trade.
IFAW’s report illustrates that the unchecked Internet trade is putting additional pressure on endangered species. The Internet opens new international markets to wildlife traffickers and many wild animals are targeted by poachers specifically to meet the demands of wealthy consumers in foreign countries or to be sold as “pets”. The Internet is notoriously difficult to control because it transcends national and geographical boundaries, for example cross-border sales now account for 15% of all transactions on eBay.
IFAW found some of the world’s most endangered species advertised online, from websites based in the UK, USA, India, Israel and Germany. Almost all of them were being traded illegally. Examples include a live gorilla for sale in London, a Siberian tiger for sale in the U.S., four baby chimps and other critically endangered species. Animal body parts included hawksbill turtle shells, shahtoosh shawls from the Tibetan antelope and taxidermy specimens of lions and polar bears. Ivory items and traditional Asian medicines containing the parts of endangered tigers and rhinos were also common.
Phyllis Campbell-McRae, Director of IFAW UK said: “Trade on the Internet is easy, cheap and anonymous. However, it is clear that unscrupulous traders and sophisticated criminal gangs are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the World Wide Web. The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world’s rarest animals is being traded away. This situation must be tackled immediately by governments and website owners before it is too late.
“Each one of us also has a responsibility to stop buying and selling wild animals and wildlife products. Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops, the killing will too. Our message to online shoppers is simple: buying wildlife online is as bad as killing it yourself,” Ms. Campbell-McRae added.
IFAW is calling for greater international co-operation between governments, including ensuring sufficient enforcement capacity, working closely with Interpol, and greater monitoring of the illegal online trade. The organization also wants website owners to take greater responsibility for illegal items posted on their sites, such as more information, effective reporting mechanisms and close co-operation with enforcement agencies.
IFAW’s full report is available here [PDF]
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW works to protect animals and their habitats. With offices in 15 countries around the world, IFAW works to protect whales, elephants, great apes, big cats, dogs and cats, seals and other animals. To learn how to help, please visit www.ifaw.org.
This is adapted from a International Fund for Animal Welfare release.