In a new report by Interpol, the international policing agency is claiming that it has found evidence of illegal wildlife products being offered for sale on the darknet. Interpol’s researchers found 21 ads on the darknet for products made of rhino horns, ivory, and tiger parts, during a period ranging from December of 2016 to April of this year. Some of the ads dated back to 2015. Interpol’s research focused on the trade of rhinoceros, elephants, and tigers, as all international trade in those endangered species is prohibited. “The good news is that researchers found very limited amounts of products available for sale on the darknet. The bad news is that Interpol researchers found adverts selling parts of some of the most critically endangered species on earth on one of the most difficult to regulate Internet platforms,” Tania McCrea-Steele, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead said in an Interpol press release.
Interpol’s darknet research was funded by the IFAW, the United States Department of State, and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). A Cyber Wildlife Crime Investigations training course to help law enforcement stop the illegal trade of wildlife on the internet was recently developed by Interpol. The training course will teach law enforcement to monitor both social media and darknet markets for illegal wildlife products.
A graphic accompanying the press release suggests that the illegal wildlife products the Interpol researchers found were not on darknet markets such as AlphaBay. The graphic states that a lack of feedback and record of past sales, things which are available on darknet marketplaces such as AlphaBay, has caused trust issues and helps account for the reason that not many illegal wildlife products are being sold on the darknet. A lack of vendors offering escrow or multi-sig wallets is also likely contributing to few sales.
Emily Wilson, an analyst with an organization that monitors the darknet known as Terbium Labs, says that illegal wildlife products are appearing on major darknet markets. Wilson told Motherboard that she sees listings for products “like rhino horn — whole or powder — pop up on a major market” and that at the time a vendor was currently selling a “100% real ivory case”. Though Wilson said that verifying the authenticity of those listings was difficult, as the vendors had limited listings and history of sales. Interpol claims difficulty in shipping products may be a deterrent to darknet trade in illegal wildlife products.
A researcher with the Oxford Internet Institute told Motherboard he found that many darknet users opposed to the illegal trade of wildlife. The researcher said he found that people who tried to offer illegal wildlife products received “vitriol” from many darknet users who supported the darknet drug trade. The researcher mentioned a post on a darknet forum where a man was offering tiger cubs for sale as pets, and other forum users were disgusted and derided the advertisement as “sick”. Interpol believes that trade on the darknet is low is because trade in wildlife remains a sensitive topic.
While the trade in illegal wildlife on the darknet is tiny compared to the trade done outside of the darknet, Interpol remains interested in fighting the trade anywhere it is being conducted. Meanwhile on the clearnet, illegal wildlife products are being traded on an industrial scale, according to the Wildlife Justice Commission. The Wildlife Justice Commission conducted a year and a half long sting operation on social media sites such as Facebook. The sting operation revealed that online sales of illegal wildlife products from 51 vendors originating in one Vietnamese city alone was worth over $53 million US Dollars. Vendors used Facebook groups to sell the illegal wildlife products locally, or to customers in other Asian countries. The commission’s sting operation also revealed that vendors were using WeChat to sell unprocessed wildlife products in bulk to China. Payments were often made not using cryptocurrencies, but instead using WeChat Wallet.