ICN theme 2020/21 workshop theme: A framework for studying online wildlife trade: challenges and opportunities.

Theme Leaders

Thais Morcatty (Oxford Brookes University), Shan Su (WildCRU) and Penthai Siriwat (Oxford Brookes University).



Ilustration of online wildlife trade
Ilustration of online wildlife trade

Wildlife trade is a serious conservation challenge (Scheffers, Oliveira et al. 2019) and in more recent years, the trade has been shifting from physical to online markets (Chng and Bouhuys 2015). However, the information on methods to obtain data on online wildlife trade is still diffuse in the literature. More importantly, not all sampling methods are equally suitable for all different platforms or targeted data. In addition, limitations and bias of each method should to be considered when designing a study [if researcher] or developing a law enforcement strategy [if police agency]. Therefore, sampling designing is still one of the biggest bottlenecks in advancing this topic. A much-needed framework of methodological approaches for assessing online wildlife trade may consider different platforms and contexts, taking into account the applicability, strengths, limitations and bias of each method. In addition, the practices should also follow the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research (Hewson and Buchanan 2013). The framework will serve as a guide for researches and/or police agencies to reduce the bias and limitations posed by each approach, as well as to choose and combine different methods to improve the data quality and maximize the efforts. Although the approaches listed in this framework would be applicable for the legal trade, it will be particularly useful for illegal or non-regulated wildlife trade, given its secretiveness.



  • To list the main online platforms where illegal wildlife items or individuals have been advertised (e.g. deep web, open social media, invitation-based social media, commercial websites, blogs etc.). 
  • To list the main methods already used or suggested to record online wildlife trade (e.g. machine learning, automatized software, questionnaires, and sampling design for long-term databases).
  • To discuss and list the main potential limitations and bias existent related to each method listed (e.g. automatized software does not access invitation-based social media, respondent-bias in online questionnaires, etc.) and possible ways to mitigate it.
  • To discuss the ethical perspective in collecting data from online sources, considering the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-Mediated Research (Hewson and Buchanan 2013).
  • To develop a framework for methods suitable for each type of platform studied, providing a useful diagram with the framework to support researchers and police agencies decisions.


Candidate Eligibility and Requirements:

  • We are looking for early-career academics (MSc/MRes, PhD or post-doc), conservation practitioners, wildlife crime specialists or information technology professionals with minimum knowledge on, or experiences in, online trade, with a particular interest in wildlife trade.
  • Participants will be expected to attend to a series of virtual collaborative meetings (approx. 4 meetings 2 hours-long – depending on the progress of each meeting) from September 2020 – February 2021 and to the in-person event in April 2021 (with all ICN participants – bursaries available for international applicants).


Expected outcomes

  • During the virtual meetings and in-person event, participants will (a) familiarize with the literature on online wildlife trade worldwide, (b) share and discuss their own experience, (c) develop a framework tool for guiding new sampling designing for future studies on the topic. The framework will be published in a collaborative peer-reviewed article.


To submit your application, please click on the link below, stating your interest in this theme. Please feel free to send any questions to the theme leaders above.


Call for Theme Applicants

Are you one of the early career researchers we are looking for to contribute to our exciting theme projects? Do you want to benefit from our rare and intimate in-person event?

Apply here by 12th August, 2020


Back to ICN 2020/2021 page


Please contact Thais Morcatty (thais.queiroz.morcatty-2018@brookes.ac.uk) with any questions or concerns regards this theme.