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Indonesian traffickers’ transaction method of selling illegal wildlife: Rekber

PEGAS has been monitoring online social media accounts for over three years, finding wildlife dealers who sell great apes captured in their forest habitats to the highest bidder. Dealers in Indonesia are amongst the most active of these ape traffickers, especially of the lesser apes (gibbons and siamangs).

The Facebook or Instagram posts of Indonesians are always in Bahasa Indonesia, the local language. PEGAS struggles with Google Translate to try to figure out what they are saying. One word, even in very short comments, keeps recurring when an animal is offered for sale: ‘rekber’, often with the word ‘wajib’. ‘Wajib’ is translated as ‘required’, but no translation could be found for ‘rekber’.

Here are many examples of both adverts and transaction instructions:

The fact that business PIN numbers are almost always given by dealers indicates that CITES Appendix I species – supposedly protected from commercial trade – are being trafficked with a veneer of legality.

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
One day PEGAS got lucky when a big Indonesian wildlife trafficker gave a short tutorial on what ‘rekber’ meant and how it operated. The word is an abbreviation of ‘rekoning bersama’, which means ‘joint account’. There are several private rekber services comprised of individuals or companies that have set up bank accounts to act as escrow services. They make money by charging a service fee for the financial transaction (e.g. RekBer CeperzBank, ceperzbank.com; RekBer IndoBank, http://www.rekberindobank.info; MangRekBer, http://www.mangrekber.com).

Here is how it works: the dealer and buyer agree on a price, for example, for two orangutan infants, let’s say Rupiah 140 million (~USD 10,000). They go to an online Rekber service. The service cannot release funds to the seller (i.e. dealer) until the buyer gives the thumbs up. Then, (1) the seller deposits the agreed price into the account, (2) the service informs the seller that the funds are there, (3) the dealer ships the orangutans, (4) the buyer informs the service that he has received what he paid for and (5) the service releases the funds to the dealer.

A schematic diagram showing how RekBer works

So Indonesian banks are facilitating illegal wildlife trade, albeit without direct knowledge of what is being traded. These services are not registered as banks, which means that they operate largely on trust between the buyer and seller and the service entity. Regulatory steps need to be taken to ensure that Rekber services are not used for trade in illegal commodities, or for illicit financial flows in the form of tax evasion and money laundering.

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Ape Only Walks Upright After Spending 9 Years Stuck In This Cage

ELIZABETH CLAIRE ALBERTS wrote a wonderful story in The Dodo on Poco, one of Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary’s most famous residents. We reprint it here.

He might look different, but he’s the sweetest chimp — and loves to show off for visitors at his new sanctuary home.

Rusted metal cage
Chimp sitting on the ground at sanctuary
Chimp lying on grass at sanctuary
Chimp standing at fence of enclosure
Woman looking at cage that imprisoned chimp

Inside the cruel world of illegal chimp trading: How apes are stolen to order, crammed into crates then smuggled across the world to satisfy the whims of the ignorant and wealthy

Ian Birrell of the Mail On Sunday has published an article on wildlife traffickers that were arrested in Nepal last October. One of them, a Pakistani named Jawaid Khan, has been in PEGAS’s crosshairs for several months. Khan has been smuggling chimps out of Kano, Nigeria, for years. PEGAS brought the story to Birrell’s attention and worked with him on it. 

Ian Birrell, Mail On Sunday, 13 January, 2018

  • Traumatised animals are transported thousands of miles from their native lands
  • Chimps sold for up to £50,000 to wealthy collectors in Asia and the Middle East
  • Police have launched crack down on smugglers, arrested four men last week

RESCUED: The two baby chimps found hidden in a crate flown into Kathmandu

The crate flown in from Istanbul was filled with exotic creatures for collectors: tantalus and patas monkeys, golden and ring-necked pheasants, scores of parrots and several dozen pigeons.

The cargo quickly cleared customs and quarantine checks –thanks to a £4,400 bribe, say investigators – and was collected by a pair of local bird dealers in Kathmandu.

Little did they know they were being observed by a special squad of Nepalese police investigating a major international wildlife smuggling ring.

For also inside the crate – stuffed into a secretive middle section – were two infant chimpanzees, cowering in fear after being ripped from their slaughtered families in an African forest.

The traumatised animals had been transported thousands of miles from their native lands and were at risk of dying of suffocation. They could barely be detected hidden among the more humdrum birds and monkeys.

For these terrified chimps, barely a year old, suffering severe dehydration and shedding body weight inside their grim container, were prized assets in a barbaric global trade in great apes that is decimating the species.

Such creatures can be sold for up to £50,000 to wealthy collectors in Asia and the Middle East – but for each one seized from the wild, up to ten of our closest genetic cousins are killed by poachers to get the babies demanded by buyers.

The Central Bureau of Investigation team, acting on a tip-off from an informant, watched as the crate of creatures was taken to the nearby base of one of the dealers. There the dealers were joined by an Indian businessman and his assistant.

The police moved in and arrested the four men on suspicion of settling a clandestine deal to shift the animals to India, which shares open borders with Nepal.

Investigators suspect he could be a significant figure in the shady world of animal smuggling in which selfish crooks send baby apes in the most horrific conditions to collectors around the planet.

They wonder whether he might be the figure known as ‘Jawaid Chimpanzee’ in the secretive forums where illicit deals are made and amid the furtive chatter of traders.

Exposed: Jawaid Aslam Khan poses as an animal lover on Facebook but investigators say he is a key player in a cruel industry
[photo provided by PEGAS]

Investigators suspect that Khan, whose social media sites show him routinely clutching baby chimpanzees and other rare animals such as white tiger cubs along with rapid-fire guns, has become one of the key players in a cruel industry.

‘This guy’s name would pop up again and again,’ said Doug Cress, chief executive of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and former head of a United Nations initiative to protect great apes.

Great apes are among the world’s most intelligent and protected animals, and their sale is banned except from certified breeding centres. They have become a highly profitable part of the illegal wildlife trade, with baby gorillas fetching up to £200,000.

Unlike trade in ivory or rhino horn, however, this involves fast transit of live animals. Often they are drugged and crammed into suitcases or containers; one baby chimp was even discovered in hand baggage scanned at Cairo airport.

The buyers are rich families in the Arabian Gulf and Asia who often keep these sensitive and sociable creatures in solitary cages, dressing them up in children’s clothes then dumping, killing or selling them when they grow into more aggressive teenagers.

SHAMEFUL: Rich buyers often dress up baby chimps
[Photo provided by PEGAS]

Some have been taught to smoke, forced to wear make-up or simply beaten into performing the most banal tricks for their masters.

Many end up as props for tourist pictures, performing stunts such as boxing in animal shows or suffering miserable incarceration for decades in dodgy zoos. Some are driven mad, making them hard to rehabilitate if rescued.

There is also huge risk of spreading disease and parasites from animals evading quarantine checks. Experts fear scores of great apes are being smuggled each month, many dying in transit. ‘We are only just beginning to understand the scale of this,’ said Cress. ‘It is an incredibly brutal market in very fragile animals.’

This is why last year’s Nepal bust marks a significant breakthrough, since those usually caught are low-level poachers and traders on the ground in Africa, not the people suspected of running sophisticated global smuggling networks.

Nepalese investigators suspect Khan was also sending smuggled chimpanzees to Bangladesh, Thailand and several other countries.

Khan, currently held in Nepalese custody, is a familiar figure to those fighting the trade, such as Daniel Stiles, a Kenya-based conservationist who hunts smugglers. He has developed a network of informants and scans dark web sites and social media.

Stiles said Khan’s name cropped up in previous investigations – including one that resulted in the capture of traders in Ivory Coast last year – and in online discussions. ‘They talk about Jawaid Chimpanzee because he holds so many chimps,’ he said.

Bubbles: The chimp once owned by Michael Jackson seen painting

Khan has regularly posted pictures of baby chimps, sometimes in his arms, on his Facebook site as he travels the world. In one post, in May 2016, he replies to an enquiry asking if one of the infant apes can go to Pakistan, saying ‘why not’. Under international rules to protect wildlife, chimpanzees have the highest protection. Their export is tightly controlled. Chimps sent abroad must be bred in recognised centres of captivity and destined for non-commercial use, while all trades must be registered.

Stiles saw that Khan had posted a picture of two baby chimps in June last year on the site of a suspected Turkish animal smuggler with links to central Africa. He contacted Anil Jain – a biometrics expert and professor of computer science at Michigan State University who has been developing facial-recognition systems for wildlife – to help determine if these were the same animals seized in Kathmandu.

‘The scores indicate a high likelihood these are the same chimps,’ said Prof Jain last week.

Khan’s social media postings discovered by Stiles also show other pictures of endangered species –and guns such as a semi-automatic Heckler & Koch rifle, plus a clip of bullets. They reveal he makes frequent trips to Kano, Nigeria – a noted centre for wildlife smuggling where the shipment for Nepal originated – and has made multiple trips to Istanbul, the transit point. He even posted online a snap of an airline boarding pass between the two cities.

Other recent postings show giraffes and hippopotamuses packed into crates and lorries. There are images from Kano of wooden crates marked ‘Live Animals’ on a runway beside an aircraft – along with the message ‘congratulations boss’ from an employee of an African firm linked to the illicit trading of birds and bushmeat.

Many key smugglers run firms that also legitimately trade animals. This helps mask illicit activities, aided by corrupt officials who assist them to evade customs and conservation controls in return for chunky pay-offs.

A report being finalised by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think tank, will reveal the chimpanzee trade is worth tens of millions of dollars annually – although those capturing them earn as little as £36 for each animal.

‘This is a very well organised business,’ said Channing May, a policy analyst. ‘You need organisation and skills to transport these animals. Many traders operate front companies that manipulate documents to make movements look legitimate.’

The impact of their callous trade is catastrophic. It is thought that about 300,000 chimps survive in the wild, where they face threats from population growth, loss of habitat, conflict and poaching. They have been wiped out already in four countries.

Poachers usually wipe out entire families or social groups to grab one cute infant, selling any slaughtered creatures for bushmeat.

Adult chimpanzees are several times stronger than humans and can deliver savage bites. Some captives have their teeth pulled out, thumbs amputated to stop them climbing, or are hideously beaten with metal bars to control them.

One landmark UN study revealed that 1,800 apes were discovered in 23 countries while being trafficked between 2005 and 2011. But over the same period there were only 27 arrests in Africa and Asia – and some of those held were not prosecuted.

Yet there is a glimmer of good news.

The two Kathmandu chimps have become friends and are recovering well from their trauma in Nepal’s Central Zoo while experts await results of DNA testing to discover if they hail from Nigeria or another African nation for safe return to a sanctuary.

‘These guys may have a happy ending and hopefully live for another 60 years,’ said Mr Cress.

‘But sadly, thousands of other less fortunate chimps will die because of this vile trade.’

Will Chimpu and Champa, the names given to the chimpanzees, have a happy life? Nepal’s Central Zoo seems determined to keep them. The zoo is little better than the Abidjan Zoo where Nemley Junior, the chimp seized in the BBC sting, died. Ibrahima Traore and his brother Mohamed were out in six months after their arrest.

Abraham Foundation provides bridging funding

The Abraham Foundation, based in New York City, USA, kindly responded to a PEGAS request for funding to allow the project to continue operating into the new year, when hopefully PEGAS can obtain sufficient funds to continue its important work.

 

 

 

PEGAS has targeted a number of high profile wildlife traffickers that it will try to put out of business, and there are a number of captive great apes that are in dire need of a sanctuary. The work will carry on, thanks to Nancy Abraham and the Foundation. Thank you.

Short video on Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary

PEGAS, working in collaboration with Sam Wolson Media, has produced a short 4-minute video that explains why the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary exists, its history and connection with Dr. Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert and conservationist. Jane was kind enough to narrate the video herself. The residents of Sweetwaters are the victims of the illegal pet and zoo trade, as the video explains.

Please view the video here

Update on the Iraqi Kurdistan chimpanzee Manno

Manno arrived in Nairobi from Erbil, Iraq, the afternoon of 30th November 2016. His rescue and relocation took exactly one year from the time PEGAS heard of Manno to the time of his arrival, giving some indication of the difficulty in rescuing and relocating chimpanzees across national frontiers.

Manno was released from his 4-star quarantine room at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 31st March 2017. Many people were there to witness his transfer to the sleeping quarters of the New Group, where his introduction and integration process would begin. Manno remained in good spirits through it all and charmed all onlookers with his sweet disposition and amusing antics.

Manno could swing around to get exercise in his quarantine room

Dr. Edward Kariuki, KWS veterinarian on left, and Sweetwaters sanctuary staff carry Manno out of quarantine on 31st March

Manno’s transport crate, the same one used to ship him from Erbil, Iraq to Ol Pejeta, is loaded onto a small pickup truck.

Manno looks out with curiosity, “What’s going on?” he wonders.

A herd of elephants greets Manno’s transporters on the way to the New Group sleeping quarters.

The New Group sleeping quarters, where Manno will go through his introduction process.

No one was more charmed and happy to see Manno come out of quarantine than Spencer Sekyer, a Canadian ex-school teacher who brought Manno’s plight to the attention first of Jane Goodall, and then of Ol Pejeta Conservancy and PEGAS. Spencer flew all the way from Alberta, Canada, to see Manno’s release from quarantine and enjoy an emotional reunion with ‘the little guy’, as Spencer affectionately calls Manno.

Spencer greets Manno, whom he had not seen since early December.

Spencer first encountered Manno in late 2013 while volunteering at the Duhok Zoo, near Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan. Manno probably arrived in Duhok about July 2013 from Syria and was the only chimpanzee in the zoo. The zoo owner dressed him up in children’s clothes and he generally had free reign to run around and interact with visitors. At night he slept in a small cage, except for the last few months when he was taken into the family home of a Syrian refugee zoo worker. Manno became part of the family.

Manno spent the last few months before he departed Duhok sleeping with Abdul Abde and family, a Syrian refugee who worked at the zoo.

The first step was to find Manno a foster mother, as she would constitute the foundation of a Sisterhood Protection Society, as it were, to shield Manno from aggressive males when eventually he would be introduced outdoors into the full group. The Sweetwaters team, led by Dr. Stephen Ngulu, Manager, and New Group supervisor David Mundia, first tried Akela, a docile senior female who had previously fostered Jane, one of five chimpanzees seized at the Nairobi airport in 2005.

Akela and Manno were first kept in cages with an empty cage in between, so that they could get used to seeing one another. Akela showed interest in Manno, but Manno showed only fear of Akela and of any other chimpanzee. He did not know what these strange, hairy creatures were, and their hooting and screeching frightened him, especially at evening feeding time when all the chimps were brought into the sleeping quarters. For the first four years of his life, Manno had only known human primates and he had worn clothes like them.

Akela

The males in particular eyed Manno with suspicion, but his young age and small size signalled that he posed little threat to the dominance hierarchy. The cage Manno lives in looks bleak, but he is there for his protection. If he were released into the group without a lengthy habituation process, the males would kill him instantly as a foreign intruder.

After a couple of weeks, Akela was put into the cage adjacent to Manno, as she showed no signs of aggression towards him, only of curiosity. Jane, who spends a lot of time with her foster mother, showed even more interest in Manno, so Stephen Ngulu, manager of Sweetwaters sanctuary, on the advice of David Mundia, added Jane to Akela’s cage. Manno continued, however, to reject their attempts to touch through the cage bars and he kept his distance.

The team felt confident enough that Akela posed no danger to Manno, so she was introduced to his cage in early May. Manno ran away from any attempts made by Akela for physical contact. Finally on 13th May, Akela was switched with the much younger Jane, who is about 13 years old. Again, however, Manno would evade any attempts at contact by running away and swinging around the cage bars.

The PEGAS manager just happened to be at Manno’s cage watching on 18th May when the breakthrough occurred. Jane was making repeated attempts to touch Manno and he kept scampering away.

Manno was sitting on the wood platform set against the wall and Jane was on the floor, looking up at Manno. She slowly raised her arms and placed her hands on the platform, just at Manno’s feet. He watched. She gently touched his feet, then reached up and touched Manno’s head. Manno did not run away, but took Jane’s hand and went into a crouching roll off the platform, falling right on top of her. They started playing!

Manno’s first voluntary touch with another chimpanzee. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eodzZRoWIOc

Jane ran off with Manno chasing her. They spent a good part of the rest of the day chasing each other and play wrestling. Now Manno and Jane are like brother and sister.

Manno and Jane chilling together (Photo: David Mundia)

Stephen and David then reintroduced Akela to the cage and Manno accepted her. In late May they introduced Bahati, which means ‘luck’ in Kiswahili, so Manno now has his own little family. Bahati is a female from Burundi who arrived at Sweetwaters in 1996 at the same time as Akela. They were both victims of the illegal pet trade, so share something in common with Manno and Jane.

Manno with his new family – Akela, Jane and Bahati. (Photo: David Mundia)

For the first time in his life Manno is being groomed, a fundamental aspect of social life. Manno is learning to become a chimpanzee.

For the first time in his life Manno is being groomed, a fundamental aspect of social life. Manno is learning to become a chimpanzee. (Photo: David Mundia)

I asked David Mundia on 31st May how Manno was doing. David replied, “He is the happiest chimp ever.”

PEGAS hosts Illegal Wildlife Trade Cyber-crime Workshop

 

Wildlife conservationists and law enforcement officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of the Internet in marketing and trading protected wildlife species. Before the Internet, live wild animals, plants and their products were normally traded in physical market places, auction houses or shops. Sellers and buyers congregated physically to trade, which set certain limits on the numbers of traders who could participate and the quantity of products that could be sold and shipped around the world.

With the arrival of the Internet, thousands of traders can communicate instantaneously with one another in cyber-space and sell millions of items at the touch of a key. Traders can use e-commerce websites and social media platforms, such as Instagram, WeChat, Twitter and Facebook, to advertise wildlife with photographs showing a multitude of items. They all have private messaging functions between users, which can allow illegal trading to take place anonymously. WhatsApp, Snapchat and other private communication applications can also be used to negotiate illegal trades out of sight of law enforcement.

The Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS) has been investigating online trading of great apes for about two years now, collaborating closely with the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Cheetahs and great apes share the unfortunate distinction of being popular exotic pets of the wealthy in the Middle East, former Soviet Union countries and elsewhere. The exotic pet and rare species industries make extensive use of cyber-space to conduct trade. Critically endangered CITES Appendix I species such as great apes and cheetahs can attract very high prices from buyers for unscrupulous traffickers, and they have organized suppliers in source countries, creating sophisticated wildlife trafficking networks.

One of the objectives of the PEGAS project is to coordinate actions of organizations and individuals who are engaged in similar work to stop great ape trafficking. With this in mind, PEGAS organized an Illegal Wildlife Cyber-trade Information Exchange Workshop, which was held 21-22 March at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Those accepting invitations to attend were Tania McCrea-Steele, the Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); Pauline Verheij, Senior Legal Investigator, Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC); Sarah Stoner, Senior Wildlife Crime Analyst, WJC; and Patricia Tricorache, Assistant Director for Strategic Communications and Illegal Wildlife Trade, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). Joss Wright, Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and Co-Director of the Oxford University Cybersecurity Doctoral Training Centre provided information electronically on illegal wildlife trade that he is investigating on the Dark Net.

Workshop participants visiting Sudan, the last northern white male rhino on Earth

The workshop focused on reviewing the strategies and tactics used by the participating NGO’s to detect and disrupt wildlife cybercriminals with the aim of increasing our impact by adopting a coordinated and consistent approach to tackling the problem across the NGO community. We presented our respective objectives, methodologies, outputs and outcomes and discussed ways of improving our effectiveness.

Each participant gave one or more PowerPoint presentations summarizing their objectives, methodologies, outputs and outcomes.

IFAW was one of the first to recognize the threat that online sales posed to wildlife. Tania McCrea-Steele explained how up to now IFAW has focused on e-commerce websites. In a recent background paper prepared for the OECD entitled ‘E-commerce and Wildlife Cybercrime: Effective policies and practices to stem the growth of illicit trade’, Tania summarized IFAW’s actions in this growing area. In 2004 IFAW launched an investigation called Caught in the Web that documented massive online marketing of live endangered and protected species and their parts including elephants, rhinos, sea turtles, tigers, lions, falcons, primates, parrots and serval cats. Three years later, another IFAW investigation, Bidding for Extinction, focused on eBay sites in the U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, France, and China.

IFAW’s investigation in 2008 (Killing with Keystrokes) found 7,122 online advertisements for CITES Appendix I and II species over a period of just six weeks across eight countries. In response to the report’s findings which highlighted the large amount of ivory available for sale over e-commerce sites, eBay introduced a global ban on the sale of ivory across their marketplaces.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have a cyber crimes unit, but IFAW’s findings inspired it to launch undercover stings in 2011 and 2012 called respectively Operation Cyberwild and Operation Wild Web, an example of using outputs successfully. USFWS charged 154 perpetrators in Operation Wild Web and officials seized a huge variety of illegal wildlife products.

In 2013, IFAW found that ads for endangered wildlife products available for sale in Australia, mostly on eBay, had increased 266 percent since 2008. In 2014 IFAW looked at 280 online markets across 16 countries (Wanted Dead or Alive). In just six weeks it found ads for 33,006 endangered animals and their parts. They found 56 live great apes offered for sale in 40 online ads, plus 8 other ads offering multiple species, including great apes.

 

Russia and Ukraine posted the most great ape ads (38 total). In 2015 IFAW released Elephant vs Mouse, exposing the illegal ivory trade on Craig’s List, a popular P2P e-commerce website, leading to Craig’s List pledging to monitor wildlife ads more vigorously and delist those that were advertising illegal items.

 


 

A growing number of online technology companies are banning the trade in endangered species on their sites. In 2008 Chinese online marketplace Tabao banned species included in China’s Wildlife Protection Law, while eBay’s ban on the sale of ivory across all their platforms came into effect in January 2009. In September 2009 Alibaba, a huge Chinese e-commerce site that provides online trade for individual consumers as well as businesses, banned all online postings of elephant ivory, rhino horn, shark fins and the parts and derivatives of sea turtles, tigers, bears and other protected wild animal and plant species.

More recently Etsy banned the sale of ivory and all other products made from endangered species in July 2013 and Chinese giant Tencent, that owns WeChat and the QQ instant messenger launched “Tencent for the Planet. Say No to Illegal Wildlife Trade” in May 2015. TRAFFIC, WWF and IFAW have been working with online companies to develop a united front against online wildlife crime across the sector. This has resulted in seven companies, including eBay, Etsy, Gumtree, Microsoft, Pinterest, Tencent and Yahoo! adopting a new standardised policy framework in August 2016.

Example of illegal ivory for sale on a Chinese social media site

Enforcement efforts are more challenging to track as prosecution data is not collated; however there have been a number of international and national operations, cross border investigations and successful prosecutions.

INTERPOL’s Project WEB (2013) was the first international enforcement operation investigating the scale and nature of online ivory trade in Europe. The operation found 660 advertisements of ivory items conservatively valued at approximately EUR 1,450,000 for sale during a two-week period on 61 Internet auction sites in nine European countries. Operation Cobra 3, an international law enforcement operation tackling the illegal trade in endangered species which took place in spring 2015, led to over 300 seizures of animals, plants and derivatives in the UK, the majority of which had been sold online.

Most recently Operation Thunderbird, a global wildlife crime operation held over a period of three weeks in January and February 2017, ensured that investigating online marketplaces and social media was an integrated part of the operation. In addition to these operations there have been multiple successful prosecutions.

Online wildlife trafficking has been elevated to the largest international conservation forum, CITES, through the adoption of multiple Decisions and the inclusion of specific text on this issue in a Resolution. This was addressed most recently with Decision 17.92 Combatting Wildlife Cyber-crime which was adopted at CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) 17 in 2016. The Decision seeks to capture changes to legislation, establish best practise models, develop enforcement guidelines, and engage with online technology companies. In addition there is an obligation to report back at CITES Standing Committees and create a Resolution on the issue for CoP18.

 

IFAW has developed a standardised methodology for researching online wildlife trade which they have shared with interested enforcement agencies, NGO’s and academics. In addition, IFAW has developed a procedure for identifying scam ads on e-commerce websites. Posting fake adverts for wildlife has become a small industry in its own right. The scammers collect a deposit and shipping costs from the customer for nonexistent animals or products and are never heard from again.

The Wildlife Justice Commission was launched in March 2015 as a non-governmental charity registered in the Netherlands and is based in The Hague. WJC’s mission is to help disrupt transnational, organised wildlife crime by exposing criminal networks and the corruption that enables them to flourish by convincing – or if need be pressuring – governments to enforce the law. Pauline Verheij explained how one of WJC’s first investigations, dubbed ‘Operation Phoenix’, focused on the northern Viet Nam village of Nhi Khe, which is a hub of international wildlife product illegal trade, including ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts sold in the village, plus a much larger range and quantity of products sold online, including bear, pangolin, sea turtle and helmeted hornbill parts.


 

After gathering evidence for a year using undercover investigator visits to Nhi Khe and monitoring of online social media sites of traders based there (mainly WeChat and Facebook), WJC mapped out a network 51 perpetrators involved in selling over USD 53 million worth of illegal wildlife products. They contacted the Vietnamese government in January 2016 and provided a ‘Map of Facts’ report on their findings, requesting them to take appropriate law enforcement action. The government initially ignored the report.

The value of the illegal wildlife seen for sale by WJC

To apply further pressure, WJC held a public hearing in November 2016 in which the evidence of illegal wildlife trade was presented to the public. An Accountability Panel made up of distinguished legal personalities reviewed WJC’s information and described it as objective and reliable. They determined that Nhi Khe is, and continues to be, a major hub for wildlife crime in protected species. The government made a few token arrests, but has not yet taken the necessary steps to shut down illegal wildlife trade in Nhi Khe and neighbouring villages.

Sarah Stoner described how WJC uses iBase to store, process and analyse data. Both the social media account and a traded species product are recorded entities, provided with an ID code and a screen grab of each ad. The analysis produced links that are relationships between the entities. The analysis showed clearly who were the biggest dealers and determined the quantities of each product sold and the estimated value. Relationships between the various actors were also ascertained. The study concluded:

  • WeChat was the most popular platform and was used by one third of traders and WJC detected at least 8,300 images of illegal wildlife offered for sale on WeChat
  • WJC found that Vietnamese traders are targeting Chinese customers via WeChat
  • The volume and scale of products offered for sale on WeChat by a relatively small number of individuals was unprecedented and was occurring in an organised manner
  • Emerging Trend: WJC identified Chinese customers are using WeChat Wallet, particularly WeTransfer, to transfer funds to their Vietnamese suppliers
  • Facebook was used by a minimum of eight subjects
  • WJC detected a minimum of 200 offences under Article 190 of Viet Nam’s Penal Code
  • The estimated minimum value of products found for sale on Facebook equated to USD 445,356 along with a strong indication of trade occurring on a commercial scale
  • 31 of the 51 dealers (61%) used either WeChat or Facebook to trade illegally; some used both; WhatsApp was also used to communicate.

The illegal items illegally sold in Nhi Khe added up to hundreds of animal deaths

The Cheetah Conservation Fund was founded in 1990 and is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Namibia, with operations in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and partner organizations in several other nations. Patricia Tricorache explained how she began recording cases of cheetah IWT in late 2005 mainly in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somaliland/Somalia, Djibouti and northern Kenya), which is the source area for most of the cheetahs going into the pet trade. She also records the illegal trade in parts (skins, bones, etc.) reported from anywhere. CCF uses Excel spreadsheets to both record and analyze the data. Since 2007, CCF has observed 641 live cheetahs in trade and found 406 cases of confiscated live cheetahs. Add to this at least 119 cheetahs represented in traded or confiscated parts totals 1,166 cheetahs taken from the wild in 10 years. CCF estimates that five cubs die for every one that makes it to the pet trade. With the total population in Africa estimated at only 7,100, the loss of so many cheetahs a year in illegal trade is seriously affecting their survival in the wild.


 

As alarming as the above numbers are, they do not represent the totality of the trade due to the difficulties in obtaining data. CCF’s field associates estimate that 300 cheetahs per year are being smuggled out of Africa for the pet trade. Consequently, in an effort to understand the trade better and obtain a broader picture, in 2014 , Patricia began searching the social media sites for cheetah dealers and mapping relationships between them. She continues to monitor them closely, having recorded well over 1,000 cheetahs offered for sale on the Net since 2012. This figure, which is much higher than the data collected through reports, indicates that the trade may indeed be closer to 300 cubs per year.

CCF collaborates with a number of partners, including IFAW and PEGAS, and its data served to support the inclusion of IWT of cheetahs on the CITES 16th Conference of the Parties agenda. Since then, CCF and has worked within the CITES process to raise awareness about cheetah IWT, which resulted in Decisions 17.124-17.130 being adopted at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in 2016. The Decisions call for the creation of a forum on the CITES website where users can exchange information on cheetah IWT and the development of a CITES cheetah trade resource kit that compiles relevant information and tools to assist in implementing the Convention with regard to trade in cheetahs, and addresses inter alia: identification of live cheetahs and parts and derivatives thereof; advice on procedures to be followed in case of seizures including handling, DNA sampling, guidance on the immediate and long-term disposal of live animals (e.g. decision trees based on relevant CITES Resolutions, veterinary care, contact details of experts or potential rescue centres, advice on procedures, reporting on disposal activities); and lists of suitable housing facilities for long-term placement of live cheetahs; and other relevant materials.

CCF also engages in demand reduction through awareness creation materials and campaigns and is in the process of building a cheetah genetics database at its laboratory in Namibia to support forensic investigations.

CCF carries out demand reduction activities

A bit of relatively good news was communicated by Joss Wright of the Oxford Internet Institute, who reported that he has found very little IWT on the Dark Net. It would appear that there is little incentive for traffickers to go to the trouble of establishing themselves on the Dark Net, where transactions have to be made using bitcoin, a virtual currency. Dealing in IWT on the open Net has proven to be low risk, low cost and very efficient. Unless law enforcement becomes much more effective against Internet dealers, it is unlikely that the Dark Net will be used for wildlife trade.

PEGAS made presentations during the workshop outlining its objectives, the methodology used in finding and tracking traffickers and the results achieved thus far, explained in the photos below.

 

During the workshop participants agreed that we are working towards the following outcomes:

• Disrupt wildlife cybercrime through enforcement actions including arrests, seizures and prosecutions
• Raise awareness with governments at an international and national level on the scale and severity of wildlife cybercrime
• Raise awareness with buyers on the negative impact of illegal wildlife trade on both the conservation and welfare of the animals being traded
• Effect policy and legislative trade at the international (CITES) and national level to specifically target wildlife cybercrime (i.e. adding offering for sale as an offense where this doesn’t exist)
• Ensure online tech companies (particularly social media platforms) pro-actively implement their wildlife trade policies

The participants decided to work together to explore the possibility of developing collaborative projects that would further the goal of reducing IWT, focusing initially on great apes and cheetahs.

The results of the workshop greatly exceeded the expectations that PEGAS initially had of its usefulness, and feedback from the participants has been very positive. We all learned a great deal, and PEGAS has a lot of work ahead to upgrade the way in which data are recorded and processed in its online IWT monitoring work.

Not only was the workshop technically and conceptually valuable, it was also very enjoyable, being held on the beautiful Ol Pejeta Conservancy where the wildlife that we are all working to conserve was seen in great abundance.