Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Wildlife Trade on the Internet

Friday, 21 November 2014


The illegal trade in wildlife, including parts of tigers or ivory, continues to thrive on the Internet.

Due to the underground nature of the trade it remains difficult to identify to what extent it is actually happening. What is known is that much of the illegal wildlife trade does have an online component, linking buyers to sellers, fulfilling orders, and planning the logistics of smuggling operations.

A recent cover story of Newsweek, one of larger global news magazines, entitled “Extinct.com”, gives a detailed account of the online aspects of the illegal wildlife trade. Journalist Rachel Nuwer sets the scene by describing the rediscovery of the earless monitor lizard, something with “a worm-like body of a Chinese dragon and the face of a character from The Land Before Time” and how, within a year, the species was available online. It also details the ins and outs of monitoring the Internet for illegal wildlife trade and what attempts are being made to mitigate the effects this trade has on imperiled species.

The story follows a study published earlier this year by Oxford Brookes University’s Professor Vincent Nijman and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s Sarah Stoner, who followed the trail of the earless monitor lizards from being smuggled out of Indonesia and Malaysia to the high-end illegal pet trade in Japan, the Ukraine, Germany and the UK.

Normally in order to collect these data we visit wildlife markets, talk to traders, and meet up with collectors in remote places, but this time the entire study was conducted from behind our computer screens. We found that the trade was taking place through specialist online forums as well as well-known web 2.0 sites as Facebook. Professor Vincent Nijman, Department of Social Sciences
Earless monitor lizards have been protected in all three countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei) where they could occur for decades, and while there is a push for the species to be added to appendix 1 of the Convention on international trade of endangered species of fauna and flora (CITES), the awareness the research and the associated press coverage creates already may have beneficial effects to the conservation of the species.