An investigation released Tuesday revealed just how prevalent the online wildlife trafficking industry is internationally. Over six weeks in 2014, 33,006 live wild animals and their parts were available for sale on 280 online marketplaces in 16 different countries, according to a report released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
According to the report, 54 percent of internet advertisements were for live animals while 46 percent were for animal parts and products. The most-frequently traded products were ivory, reptiles and birds. Among the goods - worth almost $1 billion - were surprising and disturbing items like polar bear skins, live baboons, poison dart frogs and tiger bone carvings.
Not only did the report find a massive and thriving trade, it also identified 9,482 species that are protected from international trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) among the surveyed advertisements.
The areas surveyed for the report included online marketplaces in Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Investigators looked only at "open-source" websites, meaning that the information can be accessed by any internet user.
While illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth-largest illicit trade - trailing the drug trade, counterfeit products and human trafficking - it's still a $19 billion a year industry.
Tania McCrea-Steele, a campaigns and enforcement Manager for IFAW UK who worked on the report, writes that governments need to crack down on this industry:
Governments must ensure they have robust laws in place that specifically tackle the unique challenges of wildlife cybercrime supported by sufficient enforcement capacity, while online marketplaces must commit to strong policies that stop the trade in wildlife and their parts and products, ensuring that these policies are effectively implemented to prevent their platforms being abused by wildlife criminals.