Status: Completed

Start date: 1 January 2018

Completion date: 30 June 2022

Project code: P01-I-002

Species: Multiple

Download project report (PDF, 8.41 MB)


This project found that, unfortunately, Australia’s current biosecurity surveillance and management systems are not keeping up with the growing demand for novel species – the diversity and scale of the trade is much greater than previously realised.
However, its aim was to understand how exotic pets/ornamental plants are kept and how illegal species are traded in Australia, which can help us stop incursions of new alien plants and animals.
The project team created, tested and finalised a tool for monitoring illegal trade by automatically capturing the data of 93 websites that may be used in illegal trade (excluding social media sites). It collected over 7 million unique online wildlife advertisements, then the team built a user-friendly website – Digital Surveillance of Illegal Wildlife Tracking ( – that can search the database and alert users.

Key achievements


  • Online wildlife trade database of activity and advertisements for invasive species, DIWT (Digtital Surveillance for Illegal Wildlife Trade).
  • Data Acquisition web scrapper and data processing tools.


  • Foundational steps in keeping abreast of the growing demand for exotic species that pose a threat to Australian Biosecurity.
  • Increased understanding of online exotic species commerce and markets.


  • Reduced invasive species monitoring and surveillance costs.
  • Reduced total impact costs of new incursions by identifying and prioritising threats.
  • Reduced risk of environmental damage from the incursion and the exotic invasive species potentially becoming established.
  • Increased capacity for government invasive species managers.

Project team

Associate Professor Phill Cassey

Project Lead

A/Prof Joshua Ross

Dr Lewis Mitchell

A/Prof Jeremy Austin

Dr Jonathan Tyler

Dr Peter Caley


Dr Dave Ramsey


Lindell Andrews


Dr Rebecca Johnson

Talia Wittmann

Dr Adam Toomes

Katherine Hill

Dr Oliver Stringham

Project partners

The project received funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Project updates

February 2021

Web scrapers continue to be used across a broad range of internet marketplaces and automated data processing has been successfully trailed. So far over 25 thousand internet listings have been manually cleaned for validation of software tools. Ethics approval has been granted for monitoring wildlife trade on social media. A key word search of the dark web, and analysis of illegal pet trade on the open web has commenced, illegal detections have been notified/provided to State agencies.

August 2020

Daily automated monitoring of Australian e-commerce sites for alien wildlife trade is continuing, with a total of 53 custom web scrapers built so far. By focusing on a subset of this vast amount of data the project aims to cross reference advertisements of birds and reptiles with State and Territory laws to quantify the degree of illegal trade occurring online. Design is also underway for Natural language processing models to automatically detect species being traded over the internet.
The next phase of this project will focus on end-user requirements and translation of web-scraping tools into desktop applications. The volume of wildlife related trade on deep-web (user groups) and dark-web e-commerce sites is also being investigated.

February 2020

This project continues to seek input from the Environment and Invasives Committee (EIC) and State/Territory Government agencies regarding outputs from constructing and publishing web-scraping tools and outputs. A focus on stakeholder engagement will provide avenues for this project to test outputs and tools within the life of this project.

August 2019

To combat the illegal trade of non-native species, this project is designing, testing and implementing automated web-scraping tools to analyse exotic live animal trade websites in Australia, United States and Europe. One finding of this project over 2018-19 is that trade in live vertebrates in the United States is a robust estimator of preference for alien vertebrates in Australia. Consistent with U.S. trade activity, the project has found, on Australian e-commerce sites, evidence for Illegal trade in non-native reptiles and grey-listed ornamental fish.
Bone and scute samples of Red-eared slider turtles have had preliminary isotopic and ablation laser analyses performed with the results being prepared for publication. A pilot study to determine specimen provenance (captive, wild, international) from analyses of stable isotope ratios has been completed and submitted for publication.

February 2019

This project has collated two decades of chordate interception records from state and commonwealth reporting agencies. These data have been interrogated for summary statistics and general trends relating to chordate interceptions in Australia over time. The team has identified pathways and commodities associated with high levels of pre-border chordate interceptions and identified new exotic incursion threats to Australia.

Scientific publications & reports

Deliveyne N, Cassey P, Linacre A, Delean S, Austin JJ and Young JM (2022) Recovering trace reptile DNA from the illegal wildlife trade Forensic Science International: Animals and Environments 2.

Duncan R, Cassey P, Pigot A and Blackburn T (2019) A general model for alien species richness Biological Invasions 21(8), 2665-2677.

Garcia-Diaz P (2019) A concise guide to developing and using quantitative models in conservation management Conservation Science and Practice 1(2), 11.

García-Díaz P, Prowse TAA, Anderson DP, Lurgi M, Binny RN, Cassey P (2019) A concise guide to developing and using quantitative models in conservation management Conservation Science and Practice 1(e11).

Heinrich S, Toomes A, Shepherd CR, Stringham OC, Swan M and Cassey P (2022) Strengthening protection of endemic wildlife threatened by the international pet trade: The case of the Australian shingleback lizard Animal Conservation 25, 91-100.

Hill K, Nielson K, Tyler J, McInerney F, Doubleday Z, Frankham G and Cassey P (2020) Pet or pest? Stable isotope methods for the early detection of invasive alien species EcoEvoRxiv.

Lassaline, CR, Stringham O.C, Moncayo S, Toomes A and Cassey P (2023) Untangling the web: Dynamics of Australia’s online terrestrial invertebrate trade Austral Entomology 62(3), 372387.

Lockwood J, Welbourne D, Romagosa C, Cassey P, Mandrak N, Strecker A and Keller R (2019) When pets become pests: The role of the exotic pet trade in producing invasive vertebrate animals Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 17(6), 323-330.

Sinclair JS, Lockwood JL, Hasnain S, Cassey P and Arnott SE (2020) A framework for predicting which non-native individuals and species will enter, survive, and exit human-mediated transport Biological Invasions 1(15).

Sinclair JS, Stringham OC, Udell B, Mandrak NE, Leung B, Romagosa CM and Lockwood JL (2021) The International Vertebrate Pet Trade Network and Insights from US Imports of Exotic Pets BioScience 71(9), 977-990.

Stringham OC and Lockwood JL (2021) Managing propagule pressure to prevent invasive species establishments: propagule size, number, and risk-release curve Ecological Applications 31(4).

Stringham OC, Moncayo S, Hill KGW, Toomes A and Mitchell L (2021) Text classification to streamline online wildlife trade analyses PLOS ONE 16(7), 0254007.

Stringham OC, Moncayo S, Thomas E, Heinrich S, Toomes A, Maher J, Hill KGW, Mitchell L, Ross JV, Shepherd CR and Cassey P (2021) Dataset of seized wildlife and their intended uses EcoEvoRxiv.

Stringham, OC, Toomes A, Kanishka AM, Mitchell L, Heinrich S, Ross JV and Cassey P (2021) A guide to using the Internet to monitor and quantify the wildlife trade Conservation Biology Accepted Author Manuscript.

Stringham OC, García-Díaz P, Toomes A, Mitchell L, Ross JV and Cassey P (2021) Live reptile smuggling is predicted by trends in the legal exotic pet trade Conservation Letters e12833.

Toomes A, García-Díaz P, Stringham OC, Ross JV, Mitchell L and Cassey P (2021) Drivers of the live pet trade: the role of species traits, socioeconomic attributes and regulatory systems EcoEvoRxiv.

Toomes A, García-Díaz P, Stringham OC, Ross JV, Mitchell L and Cassey P (2022) Drivers of the Australian native pet trade: the role of species traits, socioeconomic attributes and regulatory system Journal of Applied Ecology 5912681278.

Toomes A, García-Díaz P, Wittmann TA, Virtue J and Cassey P (2020) New aliens in Australia: 18 years of vertebrate interceptions Wildlife Research 47(1):55-67.

Toomes A, Stringham OC, Mitchell L, Ross JV and Cassey P (2020) Australia’s wish list of exotic pets: biosecurity and conservation implications of desired alien and illegal pet species NeoBiota 60(43).

Toomes A, Moncayo S, Stringham OC, Lassaline C, Wood L, Millington M, Drake C, Jense C, Allen A, Hill KGW, García-Díaz P, Mitchell L and Cassey P (2023) A snapshot of online wildlife trade: Australian e-commerce trade of native and non-native pets Biological Conservation 282(e110040).