Felipe Thomaz

This brief gives an overview of the online illicit wildlife trade (IWT), and analyzes the current state of this market, and speculates on its likely developments.

Although there is currently very little IWT activity on the dark web, we expect this to change as enforcement steps up, and this brief explores how that process might evolve.

The online market for illicit wildlife trade appears to be disaggregated and characterized by ‘blurred channels’, yet, at the same time, it is relatively ‘out in the open’, which points either to a lack of enforcement or challenges that stymie effective enforcement.

However, as and when enforcement activities are stepped up, it is probable that the IWT will respond by moving along a specific pathway. This trajectory would first see a move to centralized dark-web markets, then to specialist, and smaller, dark-web ‘shops’. These market shifts would be followed by ‘markets by invitation’ and then distributed, peer-to-peer marketplaces. Under this scenario of a changing market, each step would be accompanied by a decline in market size caused by a decrease in potential consumers (and vendors), but this market loss would be counteracted by an increase in marketing efficiencies and organization on the part of the vendors.