The illegal international animal trade industry has reached an all-time high of $7.8 to $10 billion annually, according to a report published last year by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based lobby group. And the cause of the peak may be increased Internet sales, reports The Guardian.
International wildlife trade was first regulated in 1963 by the CITES convention, a treaty created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to ensure that the trade of endangered plant and animal specimens does not threaten their survival. Still, it appears that illegal wildlife trade — ranging from live animals and plants to goods derived from them, such as food and pelts — has been flourishing in recent years on the Internet, despite monitoring by organizations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Interpol. A 2008 IFAW study identified 7,122 wildlife products from threatened species for sale on 183 publicly accessible websites over a six-week period. Combined, the advertised value of the products totaled $3.87 million.
In many cases, the trade of illegal wildlife goods operates on forums, classified ads, and open auction sites. On sites like eBay, where such activity is banned, vendors skirt the rules through the use of intentional misspellings, code words, and euphemisms. Elephant ivory, for example, is often referred to in the U.K. as “ox bone.” Further, an upcoming IFAW report will detail the increase in illegal wildlife trade on the “deep web” — World Wide Web content that is undetectable to search engines. Commonly used by cyber criminals to trade illegal goods like drugs, weapons, and child pornography, sites on the “deep web” are difficult to reach to the uninitiated, and some sites may require specific software programs just to be accessed. And due to the deep web’s dynamic nature, anonymity is easier to maintain. But trading on the deep web isn’t completely untraceable. Ernie Cooper of Traffic, an online wildlife trade monitoring network, told The Guardian that online traces of illegal wildlife trade activity can be used by investigators to research and monitor illegal trade activity.