Office of Law Enforcement
Pacific Region/Pacific Southwest Region
 

 

 

November/December 2009

Wildlife Products Caught in a Web of Uncertainty

How often have you been surfing the Internet when you come across a unique item such as an ivory ring, a stingray wallet, a beautiful fur coat, cool snake skin boots or even an elephant skull and been tempted to place a bid on it or buy it? Many of these items are “one of a kind” or “vintage” items and draw a lot of interest. The Internet is full of wildlife products for sale. But BEWARE! Certain wildlife products sold on the Internet are done so illegally. Buying these items may subject you to criminal liability.

 

Picture of Wildlife Products
Picture of wildlife products which are illegal to sell over the internet. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Internet allows people a much greater pool of resources than ever before. The amount of information and range of products you can access using the Internet is limitless. Anonymity combined with accessibility creates an environment that wasn’t possible before. The access to items and information now comes with a question about who exactly you’re dealing with and what their reputation is. This is especially true on websites where individuals are selling unique items as opposed to a company with stock items. For example: Craigslist.com, Ebay.com, Aquabid.com and Amazon.com as opposed to Nordstrom.com, Target.com or Best Buy.com.

Websites that facilitate sales from individuals to the public over the Internet have become a popular way to sell wildlife products. Many times, the wildlife products sold on these websites are illegal to sell or possess. These websites all have policies against selling illegal items, some have policies specifically related to wildlife products, and one even has a policy against the sale of any ivory items on its website. However, websites’ enforcement of their policies is limited. Items offered for sale on the websites are not reviewed by website staff before they are posted. They are often only reviewed if someone reports the item as falling outside of policy. Upon review of the item, the website may take the item down and contact the seller.

Purse made for Iguana and Sea Turtle Skin
Purse made from Iguana and Sea Turtle skin. Photo by Brad Ellis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Many consumers are not aware of laws surrounding the sale, purchase and possession of wildlife products. This could be because most wildlife laws, unlike many other criminal laws, are not common knowledge to the public. For example, everyone knows it is illegal to buy, sell, and possess cocaine so someone trying to sell it over the internet would not have much luck and would be reported in no time. But be aware that not knowing the law will not protect consumers from legal liability if they are in violation of a wildlife law. If you have questions about purchasing a wildlife product, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office of Law Enforcement in your region for more information.

 

Most sellers are aware of the laws surrounding buying, selling and possessing wildlife products but continue to use the Internet as a way to conduct their illegal business because unknowing consumers continue to give business to the sellers perpetuating the problem. Special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state conservation officers are cracking down on Internet wildlife sales. In one case, a special agent caught a man selling protected butterflies through an Internet website. In another instance, a special agent caught a man selling protected animal skins and mounts on his website. Recently, special agents teamed up with British authorities to apprehend a man selling ivory products internationally.  Special agents continually comb through websites looking for violations of wildlife laws.

Anytime you are thinking about buying or selling wildlife products, be aware of red flags.

Red flags to be aware of in a sale:

  • If the item has a very general description
  • If the item is real ivory
  • If the item is from a seller located in another state
  • If the item is from a seller located in another country
  • If the item is from an exotic animal
  • If the item is an “antique” or “vintage” item

There are also a few things you can do to gather more information. This information may help you determine if the sale is legal and will also help the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in answering any questions about the sale.

Ivory Carving of an Elephant
Ivory Carving. Photo by Cindy Gray, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To check the legality of the sale:

Determine what species of animal the product you are interested in buying or selling comes from.



Sea Turtle products
Boots made from endangered sea turtles. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Before you buy or sell any item made from wildlife, make sure you look up relevant laws or call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure you are in compliance. To contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about this piece or to report a violation you have witnessed, please go to www.fws.gov/pacific/lawenforcement/ and click on the “contact us” link at the top of the page.



 
   

Last updated: January 15, 2010

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