It’s always a difficult topic to research, but calling attention to the online dark web forums, markets, and Telegram operations that sell and harm animals is an absolute necessity to give a voice to innocent creatures and draw legal attention to this cause. Like many things, animal sales have been augmented by the ease and speed of technology and the perceived anonymity of the dark web.
DarkOwl observed recent trends concerning the online sales of animals and animal products in 2021, including sales of reptiles and bears; offering objects made from less-common animal materials such as ivory or exotic fur; and a steady interest in dog fights.
In this blog, we aim to cover the latest identified trends in nefarious animal activity on the dark web and adjacent platforms to call awareness to these practices as well as the efforts to stop the harm of innocent animals. We have provided a list of online links and resources to contribute to the effort at the end of this blog.
Selling any live creature online could and should attract law enforcement and animal rights groups’ attention. For instance, dog fighting is illegal in all but five countries worldwide; there are constant efforts to break up dog fighting rings, the sales of dogs themselves. Selling rare materials from endangered animals, such as ivory which is often procured from animal poachers, can result in fines and other legal action. However, actors who participate in these kinds of sales and events know how to watch the vocabulary and keywords they use in posts for advertising and selling.
Animal abusers know law enforcement officials and animal rights groups are monitoring deep and dark web forums and marketplaces to identify any information in the hopes of shutting down illegal animal activity. Usually, advertisements for anything surrounding animals are vague and only offer a preview of the kind of animal for sale, or the kind of activity they are advertising, forcing logins and other processes so vetting can take place before interested parties can gain access, in hopes of rooting out investigators and validating user interest:
The exotic animal and wildlife trade is another sphere of illicit trade found on the darknet. Illegal wildlife trafficking is estimated to be the third largest illegal business in the world after drugs and weapons. The following findings from DarkOwl Vision introduce some of the darknet’s leading vendors in the darknet wildlife trade community, along with their sources.
“The Dark Jungle” is an onion site that considers itself “…the dark web’s premier classified site” and offers turtles, snakes, as well as animal products such as fur jackets for sale. It has been around so long that it migrated from a V2 onion site, with only 16 characters to the V3 onion site, with 56 characters.
Darknet adjacent sites such as Telegram have been used to advertise sites, including clear net sites which offer exotic animals for sale. Bears are a feature of this June 2023 post on Telegram offering a link to a website where they can be purchased. DarkOwl will not publish this in order to not drive traffic to this website:
Unfortunately, dog fighting has long been a popular pastime, especially in places such as the Philippines. As of 2023 it is still legal in Russia, Japan, Honduras, Afghanistan, and Albania. Even in nations with criminal laws against this activity and fines, many people still choose to engage in dog fighting, and use anonymous platforms to organize and conduct these events.
The dark web combines its darker side, with actors soliciting drugs for “fight dogs” to improve their performance in fights, combining the underground markets of narcotics and illegal animal activities:
Dog fighting activity continues to gain traction and spread to other geographical areas – Iran and China also have dog fighting rings and sales on Telegram. DarkOwl will not publish the content of the channels. However, below we show some examples of the channel information.
A Persian dog fighting channel, offering the sale of “war dogs”:
This Russian channel discusses the history of dog fighting in Moscow, and how it has evolved as a sport with an avid fanbase:
People from backgrounds of all kinds participate in horrific activities involving dogs. Not long ago, news broke of a United States Pentagon official leading a dog fighting ring. It’s not just famous people from movies, TV, and sports industries. Politicians and governing officials also get involved as we can see in the example below from Telegram:
Ear cropping is the practice of surgically altering or removing ears from dogs. This practice is legal for certain species in some countries, including the US, for hygiene reasons. However, in other countries such as the UK, the practice is totally illegal. The RSPCA reports that they are seeing an increase in ear cropping in the UK due to celebrities and influencers “glamorizing” the look. DarkOwl analysts have identified mentions of this practice on the dark web and adjacent sites.
DarkOwl analysts identified an onion site which offers ear cropping videos and examples as of October 2023. It is unclear where these were taken and if it was in a country where the practice is legal, but it highlights there are individuals who wish to view this type of activity.
As animal rights activists use technology to combat these activities, online operations turn to methods used to fool those who legitimately sell animals, such as bringing children or other family members when they go to purchase. On the below Telegram channel, users discuss how some people use children or other family members to hide that their animal purchases are actually for fighting:
There are also many petitions and people identifying harmful practices, such as puppy farming, on these platforms. They combine their efforts on other social media sites, such as Facebook, in order to spread the word about harm to animals and enlist civilian and government efforts to inflict harsher penalties. Below, a Facebook post identifying Irish puppy farmers is posted.
An Australian also comments on the commonality of puppy farming, and shares a resource for potential pet parents to avoid buying from breeders:
Previously, DarkOwl predicted that like many other activities, animal trading and sales of exotic animals and exotic animal materials could move to darknet-adjacent platforms such as Telegram. The trends we see now, in the fall of 2023, confirm this move continues to these platforms, and also includes some social media platforms such as TikTok and Reddit. An upside to this trend is that some of these platforms can be easily monitored and tracked, reducing these horrible activities and hopefully bringing about the arrests of those involved. Additionally, social media sites are more likely to respond to takedown requests, while little action can be taken against dark web sites.
Despite activist efforts, these online activities continue and unless there is intervention from law enforcement and animal groups, these activities will unfortunately continue.
If you’d like to contribute to the effort to stop the animal activities described in this blog, or learn more about general efforts to save animals, please see: