A Cyber Crackdown on the Wildlife Trade

February 17, 2011

A growing online black market is creating new demand for items like elephant ivory chopsticks, tiger claws and whiskers, and wallets made from clouded leopard skin. WCS’s Wildlife Crime Unit is working with Indonesian authorities to investigate the illegal Internet trade.

Indonesian authorities are hot on the cyber trail of wildlife trade criminals. They recently traced online advertisements to a suspect selling the parts and products of protected wildlife species. The World Wide Web turned up many other leads, and law enforcement officials expect more arrests to come.

With about 30 million Indonesians online, Internet usage is growing in the country. And so is its misusage.

“If you are trying to sell wildlife online, beware. We will catch you, and you will be prosecuted. We are currently investigating a number of cases, and this week’s arrest represents just the first,” said Pak Darori, Director-General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation at the Ministry of Forestry (PHKA). "The increase in Internet advertisements is worrying, but this arrest shows that cyber space is no hiding place.”

Out of an art shop in Jakarta, the suspect acquired and sold hundreds of illegal items. Many of the wares came from some of Indonesia’s most iconic animals, such as tigers, elephants, and sun bears. The confiscated goods included elephant ivory pipes and chopsticks, tiger claws, whiskers, and fangs, and wallets made from clouded leopard skin. The black market business used the Internet to reach customers in Indonesia and around the world.

WCS’s Wildlife Crime Unit aids the investigation, which is led by the Indonesia’s Police Force, Forestry Department, and PHKA.

“This recent raid shows the importance of working closely with law enforcement as a key component in the fight against illegal wildlife trade,” said Joe Walston, director of WCS-Asia. “If governments want to protect their wildlife resources, they need to be serious about enforcement. Clearly, Indonesia is taking a lead on this front.”  

The new online market for the illegal wildlife trade could mean extinction for many of the targeted species. Fewer than 1,000 wild Sumatran tigers remain on the planet, but poachers continue to kill these big cats for their skins, teeth, bones, and hair, to sell as traditional medicines, souvenirs, or talismans. The gall bladders and bones of endangered sun bears are also used in traditional Chinese medicines. The trade in elephant ivory has long been used for decorations and jewelry.

“The illegal wildlife trade is a massive threat in Indonesia. Not only to iconic animals like the tiger, elephant, and sun bear, but to many protected species of animals and plants,” said Noviar Andayani, director of WCS-Indonesia. “We commend the work of the Indonesian police and Forestry Department for their commitment to uphold and enforce the law, and to track down and arrest suspects wherever they are operating: be it in a village, a market, or online.”

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