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Wildlife Trafficking Thrives in US Digital Market

August 16, 2021 GMT

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- In a new report released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), online investigators uncovered nearly 1,200 advertisements for close to 2,400 animals, parts, derivatives, or products of threatened species despite current protections under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report entitled Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, details the findings following a six-week investigation of advertisements posted on 34 US-based online marketplaces with the goal of gaining a broad understanding of the nature of the online trade in protected wildlife species in the US. The report excludes social media sites.


“These findings are a clear indication that online wildlife trafficking remains highly active and a significant challenge in the US,” said Mark Hofberg, Campaigns Officer, IFAW. “An environment of complex laws and regulations, the inherent anonymity of the internet, as well as exceptions and loopholes that allow savvy traders to circumvent restrictions, are all factors that have allowed the proliferation of the sale of protected wildlife species on online platforms despite laws and protective measures in place.”

Of the three most common types of advertisements found:

  • Nearly half (44%) were identified as elephant ivory, a decline from 2008 levels (73%), though surprisingly high considering the implementation of laws and regulations regarding elephant ivory since that time;
  • Over one-quarter (27%) of all advertisements were for trophies and taxidermy products, including skins, skulls, claws, or other animal parts primarily for display, half of which were for species only found in the wild outside of the US (giraffes, African lions, caracals, and several primate species); and
  • Live animals to be sold as exotic pets made up 19% of total advertisements, with birds, reptiles and mammals (44%, 40%, and 16% respectively) comprising the bulk of live animals sold. Live animals tended to be of higher value and made up a large share of the overall dollar value recorded, with nearly three fourths of the 34 advertisements for protected wildlife species valued at USD 10,000 or higher.


Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, is a follow-up to the 2008 report Killing with Keystrokes, representing a continuation of IFAW’s work to both monitor online wildlife trafficking while taking steps to shut it down. This includes collaborating with online marketplaces to improve their policies to reduce wildlife trafficking, implementing trainings of government enforcement officers on the latest techniques and trends for detecting trafficking, working with communities to reduce poaching, and ultimately reducing demand. Report comparisons show that the demand for live turtles, tortoises, wild cats and primates has proliferated since 2008.

“The loss of wildlife from illegal trade is devastating species that are a critical part of the complex web of life which we rely on for clean air, climate change mitigation, clean water, flood mitigation, soil health, and other critical ecosystem functions,” added Hofberg. Further, the number one risk factor for zoonotic disease spillover to people is sustained contact with wild animals, especially animals that are in close confines and in stressful conditions which are key features of wildlife trade. “The US government must prioritize wildlife trafficking in new legislation that closes loopholes in existing policy to safeguard both the future of such wildlife as well as our own.”

To read the full report, click here.

About The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW):
The International Fund for Animal Welfare ( IFAW ) 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 organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at

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SOURCE International Fund for Animal Welfare