THE BLOG

The Illegal Wildlife - It's Closer to Home Than You May Think

05/12/2014 18:11 GMT | Updated 04/02/2015 10:59 GMT

In recent days a new report on the issue of wildlife trade online 'Wanted - Dead or Alive', released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has certainly been garnering plenty of attention from media, politicians and the general public alike.

The investigation looked into the trade in live wildlife as well as wildlife products and turned up everything from ivory to rare reptiles, exotic birds and even a gorilla! As this all sounds pretty exotic and from distant shores, you may be thinking that this isn't something that affects us here in the UK. Surely this isn't a 'British Problem'?

Well the truth is it does, and it is. We shouldn't rest on our laurels just yet.

The report details the true and shocking scale of the online wildlife trade in 16 countries, including the UK. It's big business, that's for sure. But just how big may come as a surprise. The total value of these ads was around £7million!

£7million, seriously... and more than 33,000 wildlife products or live wild animals found in just six weeks! Clearly this is not a trade that takes place in the ether. It's here, on our doorstep, in our country, on our screens - in plain view.

We can become desensitised to these kind of statistics but if we stop and think what this really means, that's over 33,000 wild animals and their body parts being sold in just 42 days, in a tiny number of countries. Imagine then, just how many wild animals must be suffering for this needless trade right across the globe every day of the year.

In the UK we found websites were hosting over 1,000 online advertisements which included what clearly some people are seeing as 'those must have items' - you know, stuff like ivory and suspected ivory, turtles, tortoises, owls, exotic birds, monkeys and parts and products from elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, alligators and big cats! IFAW handed more than 400 pieces of intel to the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) for further investigation were legality was far from clear.

What the report really shows though is that we need to do more, both as a nation and internationally, to stamp out this trade. We need to work together; NGOs, the Government and enforcement agencies, to close loopholes and strengthen laws.

It is heartening to know that prominent influencers are sitting up and listening already. At the launch of the report in Parliament, IFAW was met with a packed room made up of key stakeholders - a wide range of influential MPs and Peers, key enforcement officers from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the NWCU and the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit and representatives from the Foreign Office, members of HRH The Prince of Wales' International Sustainability Unit, IFAW friends and supporters and many more, and hosted by passionate conservationist Zac Goldsmith MP.

Zac Goldsmith described the hard-hitting contents of the report as one of the most depressing he's seen and echoed IFAW's sentiments when he made clear that although the Internet has brought us all so many opportunities, these opportunities are matched like for like in opportunities for people engaged in wrongdoing.

Martin Sims, Head of the NWCU, went on to describe appalling case studies, one of which involved hunters killing endangered wildlife on demand in South Africa and Java to supply online traders in the UK who were shipping skulls from monkeys and hornbills out to the US and Canada.

It was very apparent that although the NWCU is a world leader in fighting wildlife cybercrime it cannot continue this role without the necessary funding.

Also critical is the need to continue to work with key Internet sales platforms like eBay who we've already spoken to and who are keen to act on our report.

Ultimately though, our report shows that although most of us are unlikely to see an elephant, parrot or primate walking past our window any time soon, you may well see one, or parts of one, in your living room next time you're surfing the web.

The trade is real, it does affect us - no matter where we live. With your support we can and we will close it down. We need your help to tackle wildlife cybercrime. Please take action now.