Illegally traded exotic tortoises are still popular as pets in Europe © Martin Harvey / WWF

Illegally traded exotic tortoises are still popular as pets in Europe © Martin Harvey / WWF


Published 14 June 2019

EU initiative to counter surging wildlife cybercrime

Brussels, Belgium, 14th June 2019—A new European Union (EU)-funded project aims to disrupt criminals trafficking wildlife in or via the EU using the internet, postal or fast parcel services. The project is implemented by a strong coalition gathering WWF, IFAW, INTERPOL and the Belgian Customs. The project is led by WWF Belgium, with support from TRAFFIC on a grant-free basis. 

Funded by the Internal Security Fund of the Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission, the two-year “Disrupting and dismantling wildlife cybercriminals and their networks in the European Union” project will help train customs, police and other enforcement officers across the EU to detect and deter wildlife trafficking. The project will also engage with delivery and online technology companies, to ensure wildlife traffickers do not exploit their services.

“The increasing volume of parcel deliveries, linked to the growth of e-commerce, represents a significant challenge for those enforcing the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, who will benefit from the support provided through this project,” said Emilie Van der Henst, the WWF Project Coordinator.

The internet provides wildlife traffickers access to a vast international marketplace—one without borders that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, where wildlife cybercriminals exploit the anonymity afforded to them online. Detecting and disrupting wildlife cybercrime is a critical component to ensure the survival of endangered and threatened wild animals.

More than 8000 specimens in just 6 weeks. 
A 2018 International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) report, Disrupt: Wildlife Cybercrime, identified 3,312 advertisements spread across online marketplaces and social media platforms in France and Germany, cataloguing 8,244 endangered and threatened specimens—everything from ivory tusks and trinkets to rhino horn products, fur and skins from big cats, live birds and reptiles—worth almost EUR2 million over a six week period. 

“This project will enable IFAW to continue our pioneering approach into online wildlife crime in the EU, working with our partners to create a network of experts to defeat a criminal network,” said Tania McCrea-Steele, IFAW’s Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead. 

The wildlife cybercrime project will initially focus on Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, identifying information on trends and developing tools, which will be of use to other EU Member States.

Alongside improved detection of wildlife trafficking, the project will work with online companies to remove accounts and advertisements of those offering wildlife illegally and make it harder for them to reach their customers online.

“We aim to throw a big spanner in the operations of wildlife cybercriminals and make their activities a high-risk, low-profit form of criminality,” said Emilie van der Henst, the WWF Project Coordinator.

One of the largest illegal global trades
Illicit trade in wildlife, is estimated to be worth between 5 and 23 billion USD per year, making it one of the largest illegal global trade, after other transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and illegal logging, according to a 2017 Global Financial Integrity report

In 2015, a United Nations (UN) resolution recognised the broader impacts of wildlife crime, which include corruption, money laundering, the undermining of good governance, the rule of law and the well-being of local communities and called upon nations to take appropriate action. 

In 2016, the EU adopted the Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking and Member States made environmental crime one of their 10 priorities in their efforts to address serious international and organised crime for the period 2018–2021.


1) Note to Editors
In March 2018, WWF, TRAFFIC and IFAW launched The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online with 21 of the world’s leading e-commerce, technology and social media companies. In collaboration with wildlife experts from WWF, TRAFFIC and IFAW, each company will develop and implement policies and solutions to help end wildlife trafficking online.

2) Note to Editors
The London Conference on illegal wildlife trade in October 2018 ended with strong commitments on strategic areas including cybercrime.

3) Disclaimer
The content of this press release represents the views of the authors only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains

4) Funding
This project – GA 821180 – is funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund — Police


TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organisation working to ensure that trade in wild species is legal and sustainable, for the benefit of the planet and people.


WWF is an independent conservation organization, with over 30 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit for the latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @WWF_media.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organisations and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at

About INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme

•    Leads global and regional operations to dismantle the criminal networks behind environmental crime using  intelligence-driven policing;
•    Coordinates and develops international law enforcement best practice manuals, guides and other resources;
•    Provides environmental law enforcement agencies with access to our services by enhancing their links with INTERPOL National Central Bureaus;
•    Works with the Environmental Crime Committee to shape the Programme's strategy and direction. 

About Belgium Customs

The Customs and Excise Department of Belgium.