Biggest ever survey in 16 countries finds adverts for live tigers, orangutans and chimps – plus a ‘toilet-trained’ gorillaThe world’s endangered wildlife is for sale on the world wide web: live tigers, bears, orangutans and chimpanzees are all just a few clicks away. For those seeking a more manageable purchase, there are emerald boas, hummingbirds or poison dart frogs available by the dozen.
The trade in animal products is just as vigorous. Ivory dominates, but also on offer are polar bear rugs, snow leopards’ teeth and a £55,000 cup fashioned from a rhino’s horn.
The extent of the shadowy online trade in protected animals is revealed on Tuesday in the most comprehensive analysis of the multi-million-pound market yet published. The International Fund for Animal Welfare worked with law enforcement professionals to analyse the online trade in 16 target countries over a six week period earlier in 2014. They found over 33,000 animals and items that should be protected by international laws on sale at a total value of $11m (£7m). Many of the online adverts identified are now being investigated by police.
“As poaching reaches alarming levels, wildlife cybercrime poses a sinister, silent threat to endangered species, enabling criminals to go about their grisly business with anonymity,” said Azzedine Downes, president and chief executive of IFAW.
Wildlife crime is estimated to be worth $19bn a year, making it the fourth most lucrative illegal trade after drugs, counterfeit goods and human trafficking. It has been increasingly linked to organised crime, terrorism and militias and Ban Ki-moon has warned the UN security council of the threat it poses to global security.
The UK had the fourth highest number of online adverts for protected wildlife, after China, Germany and France, with British adverts including birds of prey, monkeys and a hyacinth macaw offered for £15,000.
“Wildlife crime can seem like a remote problem but the internet brings it into everyone’s home,” said Philip Mansbridge, IFAW’s UK director. He said the report, while wide-ranging, exposed only a fraction of wildlife cybercrime. “If you think about all the countries in the world where people are using the internet, then it is obvious the scale of the trade is mind-blowing”
To compile the report, IFAW’s experts scoured openly accessible websites in 16 countries and found almost 10,000 adverts on 280 sites in the six-week study period. They focused on the most seriously endangered species, for which international trade is forbidden under Appendix One of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Some species on Appendix Two, for which export permits must obtained, were also included if law-breaking was suspected.
The team found a menagerie of wildlife for sale, both dead and alive. The highest number of adverts for large, live animals were found in Russia and Ukraine, even after investigators had been careful to exclude scams aimed at tricking money from potential buyers. The Russian adverts included orangutans and chimpanzees for sale, starting at $45,000, as well as tigers, leopards, jaguars and a “toilet-trained” gorilla. The Ukraine sites offered live crocodiles, Asian black bears and an extremely rare bridled nail-tail wallaby. Sites in the Middle East also offered live animals, including cheetahs at $18,000 and exotic gazelles and antelopes…
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