Koalas for sale? What to look out for, and how to avoid putting endangered species at risk on your marketplace

Do you have ads for Australian teddy bears and striped sheets on your site? In that case you may be involved in the black market trade of endangered species; as the AIM Group and Times of India reported earlier this summer.

The US Senate recently passed the END Wildlife Trafficking Act which raises wildlife trafficking into the status of a serious crime and authorities around the world are stepping up the control of online marketplaces. Perhaps it’s time for you to take a stand and decide whether you can afford to risk legal charges and the PR-backlash due to your involvement in the trade with wildlife and endangered species.

What Is an Endangered Species?

CITES* is an international agreement between governments, aiming to ensure that the survival of wild animals and plants aren’t threatened by the existence of illegal international trade. 183 nations are members, meaning that trade of any species named on the list are not allowed between the countries. The convention doesn’t automatically take the place of national laws, but many countries are using the framework to adopt domestic legislations.

*CITES is short for “The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”, also known as “the Washington Convention”.

What’s for Sale on Marketplaces?

Quite a lot when you take a closer look, but it isn’t always easy to catch. Indian Times reports that living Koalas have been sold under the code name “Australian Teddybears” and Tiger skin as “striped sheet”.

IFAW (The International Fund for Animal Welfare) found 33,006 endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and products on sale in 9,482 ads on buy and sell sites around the world between 2004 and 2014. The Indian Wildlife Crime Control Bureau recently announced that 106 websites globally, including Amazon, Snapdeal, OLX, eBay, Alibaba and Quikr, are still advertising the sale of rare animals and their parts.

Here are just some examples of ads we regularly come across:


A classic and one of the most commonly occurring in illegal trade on classifieds sites. Everything from jewellery to knickknacks and furniture made out of ivory is on sale, sometimes under code names. Some countries are allowing the sale of “old” ivory, but the rules are complex and it’s beyond difficult to guarantee the origin; so you are taking a pretty high risk if you choose to get involved.

an old distressed table

Bush Meat

Game meat from wild animals is hunted, slaughtered and consumed by humans. From the beginning it was mostly associated with apes and monkeys but nowadays includes hippopotami, water buffalo, elephants, giraffe, zebra, wild hoofstock, caracals, jackals, reptiles, birds, and rodents. Besides the fact that the meat often includes endangered species it can also harbor infectious agents causing human disease.

Rhino Horns

There is a strong belief in many parts of Asia that rhino horn is a cancer medicine and a horn can sell for as much as USD$30,000. Commercial trade of rhino horn is regulated by CITES, which only allows for trophy hunted and stuffed rhinos from a small number of African countries, and secondary sales of the horn are illegal. However, to get around these regulations, smugglers have been caught paying Thai and Vietnamese residents to pose as trophy hunters, bringing them to a South African private hunting reserve where they then pretend or attempt to shoot rhinos, and have had a trained professional hunter on standby to kill the game on their behalf.

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Trophy Hunts

Remember Cecil the lion who was shot by an American dentist in Zimbabwe last year? That’s just one example headline of PR scandals connected with trophy hunts. There are plenty of listings for various types of hunts on classifieds sites, and even though they’re not always illegal you have to take a stand and decide whether this is something you want on your site.

“The big 5”: Buffalo, Leopard, Lion, Elephant and White Rhino are perhaps the most sought after targets and therefore big business, but so is Polar Bear, Crocodile and Baboon.

Canned Hunting or Shooting Preserves

Commonly referred to as “shopping and shooting”, “put and take”, or “captive hunting”, animals are kept in an enclosure too small to allow any chance to escape and they are often drugged or human-habituated, making them an easy target. This type of hunting has been called un-ethical, even by some hunting organizations, and the risk of disease transmission due to the high population density is high.


Pet Reptiles, Turtles and Exotic Birds

Turtles and tortoises are the most commonly occurring reptiles, and parrots are the most prevalent when it comes to birds. But you can also choose from snakes, lizards, crocodile, toucans, owls and hummingbirds for sales, if you’re looking for an unusual and illegal pet.

Big Cats

Live cats and cubs but also products made from example tigers, leopards, ocelot and lynx are on sale. Traditional Chinese medicine is on the rise in other parts of the world creating an increased demand for tiger parts in countries like Japan, South Korea, the US and the UK. Claws, teeth, tail, whiskers, brain and even penis are among the sought after parts used for anything from epilepsy treatment to love potions.

How to Moderate

Even though trade with all endangered species is not strictly illegal in every corner of the world, we strongly recommend that you keep a rather strict policy. There are many gray zones and you shouldn’t ignore the risk of bad PR when media decides to investigate the topic. The articles we previously referred to are pointing to prominent sites, forcing them to take action. It would have been easy to avoid the bad publicity if they’d have had processes in place earlier.

1: Automate

If you use automation you should set up filters to recognize keywords that may refer to endangered species. Exactly how stringent you want to be is a discussion about accuracy vs efficiency. If your tool allows, you can create rules that prevents e.g. “toy tigers” from being rejected. But if quality is a prioritization, all your tigers should be sent over to a manual check, since scammers often use keywords (as mentioned earlier in this article). Don’t forget to always keep your filters up to date when new species are added and scammers are finding new ways. Implio-users can use the readymade “endangered species”-list that comes with the tool for free.

2: Investigate

Anything suspicious should be cross checked against the CITES database. If you suspect that the product contains anything from the list, just don’t allow it.

Build Trust by Taking a Stance and Make Sure You Don’t Have Endangered Species for Sale

Only the fittest will survive in today’s digital jungle and building trust and relationships with picky consumers is crucial to staying competitive. Is your site providing an ethical and safe shopping environment where users can rely on finding good, legal products?
Make sure you stay on top of the food chain by keeping your marketplace out of the endangered species trade or you brand might just face extinction.


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