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Wildlife Sold Illegally On The Dark Web

The Wildlife For Sale On Dark Web
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While the darknet makes for a typical place for individuals to find their anonymity, enjoy casinos, and purchase drugs on various marketplaces. It’s also a place where some unfortunate business takes place. Over the years, one particular issue has been on the rise, and very few are fighting against it or even aware of it. Animals are poached, stolen, and often traumatized, so they may be sold on the dark web. So while LE focuses on taking down some dark web hackers, let’s look at a greater issue arising on the hidden world of the web.

The Rise of Dark Web Wildlife Trade

The illegal wildlife trade has long been a global concern. It poses a grave threat to biodiversity, biosecurity, and human health. The trend of selling and creating medicines and trophies out of these animals has made its way onto the dark net. The dark web’s involvement in trading wildlife species has opened doors to an easier process.

While not as rampant as other illegal activities, the dark web is a haven for the illicit trade of plants and animals. So let’s look at what’s actually happening here. The wildlife trade in circulation and the scope and challenges of combating this new underground market. Additionally, we explore potential solutions to address the issue without needing to take out your anonymity.

In 2017, Interpol, An Australian research team conducted an in-depth study of the wildlife trade on the dark web. The team received guidance from David Décary-Hétu, a professor in the School of Criminology at the Université de Montréal. Over five years, they scanned about 2 million darknet ads. They uncovered 3,500 advertisements for wildlife, representing atleast 150 species. Wildlife traders intended to use approximately 90% of these species to sell recreational drugs.

The Psychedelic Connection

The research team unveiled a prominent link between the dark web and the wildlife trade. They discovered the prevalence of species with psychedelic properties and found the dark web’s most popular species. These species contained the potent psychotropic dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms. Moreover, they involved toads secreting bufotoxin, known to have psychoactive effects. 

A South American tree called Mimosa tenuiflora was one of the most traded species. Jurema preta is the name of the South American tree, and its bark contains a potent hallucinogen, DMT (also known as he huan pi).  In general, plants dominated the sales, originating from Central and Southern America. On top of that, the dark web featured 19 species of Psilocybe fungi.

The Darknet Isn’t The Problem, The Trade Is

According to this study, the illegal wildlife trade on the dark web harms both wildlife and humans. The species traded may be toxic or carry pathogens, which pose grave risks to human health and biosecurity.  Moreover, the trade of invasive or endangered species exacerbates global biodiversity threats.

Psychodelic Toads

For instance, the infamous Colorado River toad emerged as a casualty of the trade. It faces poaching pressure due to its skin-secreting psychoactive toxins. This insidious trade disrupts ecosystems and worsens endangerment, pushing certain species closer to extinction. 

Despite the dark web facilitating wildlife trade, researchers consider it a minor concern. They base this assessment on the limited impact observed. The limited number of ads discovered contributes to this. As of now, they deem the risks to conservation and biosecurity low. But these findings shed light on the species traded. They also offer insights into the channels employed for the illegal wildlife trade. 

The small number of ads indicates that darknet markets are not a primary platform for trade. Instead, the majority of wildlife trafficking occurs in more accessible online spaces. These spaces include clear web e-commerce sites and social media platforms. These platforms offer a larger customer base and a sense of impunity for sellers. 

Beyond the Dark Web

While the dark web may host a marginal share, the bulk occurs on social media and e-commerce websites. These platforms attract a larger volume of illegal transactions. These platforms provide greater anonymity. They also attract a larger customer base for illegal wildlife traders. To combat wildlife trafficking, addressing the issue on many fronts is essential. This includes monitoring both the dark web and popular online spaces. 

Monitoring and Enforcement

Combating the traffic must extend vigilance to the dark web and social media.  Researchers and law enforcement must collaborate to track changes in the wildlife trade. They should focus on both hidden and open areas of the internet. Stricter enforcement on popular platforms will push their activities to the dark web, which necessitates constant monitoring in all online spaces. 

One positive initiative is the “End Wildlife Trafficking Online” coalition. In this effort, NGOs and platforms like Facebook, Alibaba, and eBay hope to fight the trade. Their goal is to eradicate illicit wildlife trade from these platforms. The coalition’s efforts are crucial to disrupting the illegal wildlife trade.

The Underground Exotic Wildlife Trade

Because of the phenomenon that is Netflix’s Tiger King series, many have questions. They are curious about where and how exotic animal sales occur, other than in back-alley handshakes between Joe Exotic and Doc Antle. Having seen sales of exotic animals on the darknet in the past, we decided to put together this briefing. The briefing focuses on how vendors market and sell animals in underground markets. 

We were also interested to see if there had been an uptick in this type of listing. Additionally, we investigate the increase in demand for trade as a response to the series. Our conclusion is good and bad, depending on your stance on exotic wildlife and animal sales. From what we can tell, there hasn’t been a noticeable surge in the exchange of wild animals or animal goods. But there is still a thriving marketplace that shows no sign of slowing. 

According to a 2017 report by INTERPOL, the darknet has been a source of illegal wildlife trade since 2015. Some open-source blogs discussing animal endangerment say the trade started even earlier. Their observations contribute to our understanding of the issue. Using DarkOwl Vision, queries including exotic wildlife market keywords revealed many interesting results. The researchers found these results across darknet markets and forums.  

One vendor, “ivoryking,” has the largest darknet presence in the database. They have over 150 documents in DarkOwl Vision advertising ivory and exotic pets. These pets include lion and cheetah cubs, Nile crocodiles, leopards, and baby gorillas. They are accessible across many authenticated hidden services.

The Need for Action

The darknet’s anonymity and security mechanisms will naturally attract wildlife traders, but this doesn’t mean the darknet is bad altogether. Rather it’s crucial for law enforcement to combat foot traffic prior to reaching this point. Coordinated efforts between governments, organizations, and online platforms are essential. They aim to protect wildlife and biodiversity from the illegal wildlife trade. 

Nations joining the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have a responsibility. Their responsibility is to keep track of the internet-based wildlife trade. CITES resolutions aim to track and report all internet trade, including on the dark web. Their goal is to boost monitoring and enforcement of wildlife trafficking online. 


The illegal wildlife trade persists on both the open and dark web. Efforts to combat the trade need continuous monitoring. They also need collaboration among nations, law enforcement, and online platforms. By working together, we can protect the world’s endangered species. Furthermore, we can preserve our natural ecosystems for future generations. The dark web, with its cloak of anonymity, may only represent a fraction of the illicit wildlife trade.  Criminals seeking profit at the expense of nature’s treasures continue to exploit online platforms, serving as a constant reminder.