Last year The HSUS joined forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an unprecedented investigation into illegal wildlife trafficking dubbed Operation Cyberwild. A law enforcement action designed to take a bite out of the multibillion-dollar black market in illegal wildlife products, Operation Cyberwild paired civilian volunteers from The HSUS with special agents from the USFWS, as well as state wildlife law enforcement, to assist in scouring the Internet for evidence of illegal wildlife items being trafficked on websites like Craigslist.
Yesterday, also with the USFWS and multiple state wildlife agencies – including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Texas Parks and Wildlife – we announced the results of Operation Wild Web, an investigation spanning 16 states, three Asian countries, and multiple federal agencies. Led by USFWS deputy resident agent in charge, Ed Newcomer, the investigation took place over two weeks in August 2012. During that time, 40 volunteers from The HSUS produced leads that enabled investigators to quickly make contact with sellers, saving law enforcement significant time and resources for field investigations.
The joint efforts resulted in 154 “buy/busts,” 30 of which were alleged federal crimes, and the rest were state violations. There were many items seized, everything from an illegal jaguar fur to a live western scrub jay.
The problem of wildlife trafficking is one of the major animal issues of our day, and it’s getting attention now from world leaders. President Obama recently announced, through an executive order, that he will establish a task force to develop a global anti-poaching strategy focused on elephants and rhinos. He announced this during his recent trip to several African nations, where wildlife watching is a multi-billion dollar industry and is part of the economic development picture for the continent.
Collaboration among leading public officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, and The HSUS and other non-government organizations, is critical to facing these challenges, and we’re proud to be part of it. If you want to be part of the solution, take our don’t buy wild pledge. There is also, as author Laurel Neme and others have suggested, an urgent need for additional funding for such work at all levels, something to keep in mind when you are in contact with your state and federal elected officials concerning such issues. There is so much that we can do, individually, and together, to halt wildlife-related crimes.