Vancouver, Canada, 24 February 2009—Parties to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Wild Species of Fauna and Flora, meet today to discuss the growing use of the internet for trading wildlife.
In 2004, TRAFFIC first drew attention to the use of internet auction sites for trading ivory in the United States through its seminal report Tackling the ivories: The status of the US trade in elephant and hippo ivory (PDF, 1.1 MB)
According to the report, between February and May 2004, an average 1,000 elephant ivory items per week were advertised on the internet.
In 2008, following the advice of TRAFFIC and others, well-known internet auction site eBay announced a ban on all ivory sales, because of difficulty in policing the trade.
“One of the key issues the Vancouver meeting will discuss is how to separate legitimate from illicit wildlife internet trade,” said Ernie Cooper, Canadian National Representative, for TRAFFIC North America.
“However, at some point, illegally traded items need to be physically transported to the buyer. It doesn’t matter how high-tech the dealing is, catching trade violations still requires old fashioned enforcement work.”
Cooper will be presenting results of TRAFFIC’s research into e-commerce. They include an eight-month study of the Chinese-language internet that found more than 4,200 advertisements offering illegal wildlife products in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“Even accounting for the proportion of adverts that will be bogus, the extent of wildlife being offered for sale over the internet in apparent contravention of international and national laws is alarming,” said Cooper.
An investigation into the sale of Kaiser’s Spotted Newts revealed 10 websites claiming to stock the species. One Ukrainian company claimed to have sold more than 200 wild-caught specimens in a single year.
The salamanders are found only in Iran and are Critically Endangered, believed to number fewer than 1,000 individuals.
“If trade is happening at that kind of level, the future for Kaiser’s Spotted Newt is very bleak indeed,” commented Cooper.
According to TRAFFIC, buyers should ensure their internet purchases are legal, and governments and other agencies should co-operate more to police the international sale of all wildlife items, not just those listed in CITES, across the internet.
The meeting began the day a Georgia man was fined USD15,000 in a US Court for illegally possessing wildlife parts including the carcass of an endangered Snow Leopard he had bought over the internet.
The conference in Vancouver, Canada, runs until 26 February.