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Wildlife trade on the Internet

Ebay online: A stuffed Blackbird for saleEbay online: A stuffed Blackbird for saleOnly a few years ago illegal stuffed trophies and pelts could only be obtained by conducting dubious and semi-criminal trade in secluded alleyways. ‘Hot’ goods in the age of the internet are now only a mouse click away.

The ‘market leader’ in online trade with protected wildlife or their products was, until well into 2004, the internet auction house eBay. In 2002, within a period of only 30 days, CABS discovered more than 1,600 illegal auctions on the German eBay server in Potsdam. A great variety of goods was on sale: elephant tusks, ocelot coats, stuffed raptors, crocodile handbags and caviar. The sellers, as CABS discovered, all didn´t have the necessary legal sale documents. The turnover with these products in December 2002 alone amounted to some 95,000 Euros.

CABS published these figures in spring 2003 and preferred charges against the dealers and eBay. The legal basis for the charges was the tele-service law, which obliges operators of online servers to take responsibility for the legality of business conducted on their website.

Pionus menstruus: this parrot species is still smuggled in South America (©  Beatrice Murch/wikimedia commons)Pionus menstruus: this parrot species is still smuggled in South America (© Beatrice Murch/wikimedia commons)Subsequently the customs service and species protection authorities confiscated hundreds of stuffed trophies of protected species, as well as animal pelts and dozens of kilograms of caviar, from the traders we had preferred charges against. After a lot of pressure, eBay also took action and began to systematically monitor their auctions from summer 2004 onwards. Since that time, any seller who offers suspicious articles receives an automatic warning from eBay, drafted by CABS, reminding the seller of nature and species protection regulations. Illegal wildlife auctions which are nevertheless begun are mostly deleted online by eBay within a few hours.

Dealings in illegal products have now, to a great extent, disappeared completely from the internet. There are still a few websites with restricted access, known only insiders, which still deal in products from protected wildlife species. The open scene with a multi-million turnover, as eBay until mid-2004, does not exist at present.