By Gilbert Koech
Even as rangers painstakingly patrol game parks to secure wildlife, a murky multi-million dollar trade in wild animals and their parts is booming online.
A shocking report released recently by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) shows how thousands of endangered species are bought and sold online, many advertised without any form of supporting documentation.
Questions are now being raised on the legality of many advertisements offering parts of endangered species for sale.
The illegal trade in ivory, wildlife and wildlife parts and products is not only a threat to the conservation of species, but also to national and global security, experts say.
The anonymity of the internet, its lack of boundaries and regulations, provides easy opportunities for criminal activity.
The report 'Wanted - Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade' reveals that a total of 33,006 endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and products were offered for sale via 280 online market places across 16 countries this year. This comes from an intense six-week investigation that began early 2014.
This revelation comes at a time internet penetration in Kenya is rising.
"As poaching reaches alarming levels, wildlife cybercrime poses a sinister, silent threat to endangered species, including elephants, reptiles and birds, enabling criminals to go about their grisly business with anonymity," said Azzedine Downes, president and CEO of Ifaw.
Already, more than100,000 elephants have lost their lives to ivory poachers in the past three years, while in 2013 more than 1,000 rhinos were killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa alone.
Ifaw found the legality of almost 13 per cent - 1,192 - of the 9,482 advertisements investigated was sufficiently doubtful to warrant turning these over to law enforcers for further examination. However this may only be the tip of the iceberg as investigators were careful not to deluge enforcers with reports of potential wildlife crime.
The Ifaw investigation focuses on the "surface-web", namely open-source websites commonly referred to as online marketplaces, where products are freely available to the public.
The report, which investigated 16 countries, found out that 32 per cent of adverts involved ivory, 54 per cent live animals, and 46 per cent parts and products of wildlife.
The report says thousands of wildlife and wildlife parts and products are sold around the globe while the nature of the trade, with no access to the item and with little or limited information about the product, means that it can be difficult to ascertain the legality of the sale.
According to the report, 56 per cent of all wildlife parts, products, and live animals in the investigations, were in Chinese websites with investigators submitting 1,192 intelligence files to law enforcers.
The six-week investigation says parts and products found greatly varied from region to region.
The report says awareness of the threat posed to the survival of endangered wildlife by providing easy to find information on the illegal trade should pro-actively be raised.
Ivory and suspected ivory animals and products available for sale according to the report were 3,047 (32.13 per cent), reptiles 2,509 (26.46 per cent), birds 2,509 (26.46 per cent), mammals 1,309 (13.81per cent), amphibians 281(2.96 per cent), fish 55 (0.58 per cent), mollucs 26 (0.27 per cent) and corals 1 (0.1per cent).
The report says China had the highest total number of items offered for sale with a staggering 18,590 pieces valued at $2,744,500 and a total of 157 adverts were forwarded to law enforcers for further probe.