CyberShield against illegal animal trade

Pets, who does not love them?

If one judges oneself after the numbers of the copies living in Germany so the cat with 16.7 million is the most popular domestic animal of the Germans (conditions 2021) [1]. The number of online search queries for purchase ads, however, suggests that the dog is the most popular pet among Germans, as it is searched for 105,790 times per month [2].

After our team meetings (and looking at our security), I have the impression that the dog wins the race for us. So dog and cat fight for the first place, but which animals come next? Hamsters, guinea pigs, budgies, fish, but also exotic animals such as spiders, snakes, frogs and many more. There are about 1.2 million terrariums in Germany. But where do the animals come from? Where can you buy tarantulas or king pythons? Of course, on the Internet: Ebay classifieds or even marketplaces specifically for such animals like offer oodles of such ads.

But what do I have to pay attention to? These are reputable sites so nothing can go wrong, right? Wrong, unfortunately, also on such sites very many protected species are offered for sale. So buying such an animal would already be a criminal offense.

But it is not only the trade in live protected animals that is present on the Internet, but also the trade in individual parts of the animals. The International Fund for Animal Welfare(IFAW) searched 106 different online marketplaces for ads for protected animals in Germany, Great Britain, France and Russia. The shocking result: 11,772 different specimens of protected animals or body parts of them with a total value of nearly $4 million. Approximately 11% (or exactly 1,288) of the ads relate to ivory.

While writing this newsletter, I asked myself the following question: What is so special about ivory? The answer: it is super suitable for carving, for example, to make jewelry or figurines. Ah okay, so even today up to 20,000 African elephants are killed each year because you can carve great things out of their tusks [3]. More of such facts you can take from the attached report of the IFAW (I really recommend you to have a look at the numbers in a free hour).

What now?

This is just one of the many reasons why we at CyberShield have decided to support IFAW and fight against illegal animal trade.

How exactly do we help?

But how do we do that? A conversation with IFAW revealed that some helpers are always manually going through the (rather long) list of protected species and looking for ads for them in the various marketplaces. Going through a given list of animals and searching for results for each animal sounds like a Python script, right? Exactly! Part of our team is currently writing a Python web crawler that does just that and searches for offers for this specimen on various marketplaces and outputs a list at the end. Now only one employee has to check the output results and report them if necessary, thus saving a lot of time.

However, not everyone is so open about it; many such purchases happen in private groups on Facebook, Telegram, etc. Getting into these is much more difficult. This is what the other part of our team deals with. In order to protect our employees, we want to act completely anonymously. In this day and age, not so easy(here’s a little recommendation on the subject from me). And even if you have an anonymous device with an anonymous account, some questions arise: How do I then get into such an anonymous group? Once I’ve done that, how do I convict illegal traders? Well, like in movies, when the undercover investigator approaches the alleged dealer and tells him to buy drugs from him, right? No, that counts as provoking a crime and is forbidden in Germany.

But you got a little insight on how to convict such criminals in this article.

Detailed report and statistics from IFAW