Online Animal Trafficking A ‘Significant Challenge’ for US Says New Report
A recently released report on the status of illegal online wildlife trafficking has revealed thousands of endangered or illegal animals, parts and trophies are being digitally advertised in the U.S.
The report, dubbed Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, found 1,400 advertisements working to sell 2,400 animals on 34 different online platforms over a six-week period.
“These findings are a clear indication that online wildlife trafficking remains highly active and a significant challenge in the U.S.,” Mark Hofberg, campaigns officer of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the authoring organization, stated.
Nearly half of the advertisements identified were for ivory. The remainder were for trophies like claws, teeth and horns, taxidermy products or live animals. Live animals made up 19% of the total advertisements, and held the highest rate spent on advertising out of all the illegal products. Of the advertisements for live animals, 44% were for exotic birds, 40% were for reptiles and 16% were for mammals.
“An environment of complex laws and regulations, the inherent anonymity of the internet, as well as exceptions and loopholes that allow savvy traders to circumvent restrictions, are all factors that have allowed the proliferation of the sale of protected wildlife species on online platforms despite laws and protective measures in place,” Hofberg said.
IFAW investigators could only record animals that were clearly identifiable in the images provided in the advertisement. If identification was made, the next obstacle was determining the legality of the transaction given the varying laws between countries or regions.
“Most states prohibit the trade of some bear parts, but which parts, and to where they can be sold, varies by state,” the report says. “It is well documented that poachers illegally sell gall bladders, claws, paws, and other black bear parts on the black market. However, it is impossible as an investigator to ascertain with confidence the legality of a particular online advertisement for black bear in the U.S. Therefore, despite black bear being one of the most heavily traded wildlife species in the U.S, this report excluded most of the items found of this species.”
In addition to being unable to identify the legality of the sale, investigators were forced to wave off social media platforms, giants in the advertising world, due to the scope of content produced on those platforms.
These factors considered, the report’s results could be merely a fraction of the true extent of wildlife trafficking in the U.S.
“This investigation’s findings clearly indicate that despite progress made in the halls of Congress, by federal agencies, and by private companies, online trafficking of protected wildlife species remains a significant challenge in the U.S.,” the report states.
“Demand for exotic pets would appear to be proliferating, with several endangered species of birds, turtles, tortoises, and primates commanding towering prices,” it continues.
Moreover, “Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight” suggests the harm caused to ecosystems by this illegal trade, and the danger posed by wildlife’s high rate of human-to-animal disease transmission, pose enough of a risk for the government to act.
Drawing conclusions from its findings, the IFAW recommends the U.S. government weave wildlife trafficking laws into any new policy or reforms that involve online communications, commerce or law enforcement; to fund and authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s and state counterparts with the funding and authority to pursue cybercrimes related to wildlife trafficking; to require proper CITES or ESA documentation to sell protected species online; and to properly encourage and incentive the reporting of online wildlife trafficking.
“The U.S. government must prioritize wildlife trafficking in new legislation that closes loopholes in existing policy to safeguard both the future of such wildlife as well as our own,” Hofberg said.