Assessing the extent and nature of wildlife trade on the dark web

Joseph R Harrison, David L Roberts, Julio Hernandez-Castro
Conservation Biology 2016, 30 (4): 900-4
Use of the internet as a trade platform has resulted in a shift in the illegal wildlife trade. Increased scrutiny of illegal wildlife trade has led to concerns that online trade of wildlife will move onto the dark web. To provide a baseline of illegal wildlife trade on the dark web, we downloaded and archived 9852 items (individual posts) from the dark web, then searched these based on a list of 121 keywords associated with illegal online wildlife trade, including 30 keywords associated with illegally traded elephant ivory on the surface web. Results were compared with items known to be illegally traded on the dark web, specifically cannabis, cocaine, and heroin, to compare the extent of the trade. Of these 121 keywords, 4 resulted in hits, of which only one was potentially linked to illegal wildlife trade. This sole case was the sale and discussion of Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro cactus), which has hallucinogenic properties. This negligible level of activity related to the illegal trade of wildlife on the dark web relative to the open and increasing trade on the surface web may indicate a lack of successful enforcement against illegal wildlife trade on the surface web.

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