The shady business of online wildlife trade

The shady business of online wildlife trade

The internet is certainly the cornerstone of modern technology and a boon for so much innovation. However, along with all its advantages, there are some serious drawbacks and one of the latest is online smuggling of wildlife. The Indian Express recently reported that India’s wildlife police have discovered illegal websites selling live endangered animals, parts and rare plants.

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) of India has started to hire cyber crime specialists to track down online smugglers. A preliminary enquiry by the Indian Express revealed that there are nearly a thousand websites that deal with the sale and delivery of animals and animal products protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Initial study has revealed that most of these websites are popular shopping websites, online classified and free ad posting websites.

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A black rhino whose horn has been removed to protect it from poachers. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

“What makes things truly challenging is that the new age wildlife smuggler or seller is also very tech-savvy, so there’s need to seek the services of cyber specialists. We began hiring two months ago. These specialists have found some 200 websites where specific instances of sellers marketing some endangered animals have been traced,” an officer with the Ministry of Environment & Forests said.

Additionally, many of these weblinks are hosted on proxy servers based in other countries. Therefore, there needs to be cooperation with the host countries to trace these IP addresses. Many websites also use fake IP addresses making detection of the criminals very difficult.

The online black market caters largely to foreign markets and apart from tiger skins, elephant tusks, and rhinocerous horns there are also live animals like the colourful tokay gecko, giant ladybirds, the Indian star tortoise, hill mynahs, tarantulas, sea horses, sea cucumbers, parakeets. Specific animal parts like pangolin scales, neck feathers of the grey jungle fowl, musk pods, bear bile, mongoose hair, snake skins, insects and rare plants of high medicinal value are also available to buy.

Exact data on the scale of illegal wildlife trade in the country does not exist – the ministry is still in the process of compiling a national database. However, incidents of trade of endangered species which have been detected by the WCCB follow the global trend and indicate an upswing. While 205 cases of smuggling were detected in 2009-10, the number climbed to 245 in 2010-11 and 312 in 2011-12.

Editor’s note: this article originally cited an example of an advertisement offering a single tokay gecko for sale. However the context around the advertisement was unclear, so it was removed from the story.

This article was written for and reposted on Focusing on Wildlife.

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