For Sale: Endangered Species.
Concerns arise over the uncovering of Facebook as an online marketplace, trading in endangered species.
Traffic, wildlife monitoring network, found hundreds of protected animals for sale on Facebook groups in Malaysia, including gibbons, sun bears, and binturongs, also known as bearcats.
Traffic have stated that this behaviour is illegal and is a growing threat, globally.
Facebook have said that it “will not hesitate” to remove content promoting such trade.
Researchers monitored 14 Facebook groups for 30 minutes per day over a 5 month period. They found more than 300 wild, live animals for sale as pets.
One of the report’s authorities, Sarah Stoner from Traffic, said, “You often find that in trading there’s a small percentage of people involved in illegal activity.”
“But we identified 236 posts where there was perceived illegal activity, there were 106 different sellers, that’s quite a lot of different people and it shows how prevalent it is.”
Researchers say that the development of online trade is surprising in Malaysia as open wildlife markets are not found in the country, unlike in other areas of Asia.
“The demand for these animals has always existed in Malaysia but it’s never really had an outlet to flourish whereas the internet and Facebook seems to be providing that platform to enable the trade to happen in this manner” said Ms. Stoner.
Almost 50% of the species recorded were protected and illegal to sell under Malaysian law. Some 25 of the 69 non-native animals protected under the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Traffic have said they have shared the details of their investigation with Facebook who are looking to develop practical solutions to combat the trade.
In a statement, Facebook said, “We are committed to working with Traffic to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia.”
“Facebook does not allow the sale and trade of endangered animals and we will not hesitate to remove any content that violates our terms of service.”
Investigators have also passed on the information to Malaysian authorities.
“We have carried out 43 successful seizures, arrested at least 54 illegal traders and saved over 67 wildlife species from being traded illegally on Facebook,” said Hasnan Yusop, of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. He also pointed out that there are Facebook groups who have been trading since 2013.
He also said, “More importantly, we also want to send out a stern warning – if anyone is caught violating our law, they will face harsh penalties.”
The concern of the investigators lies in the use of social media and smartphones as anyone interested in selling wildlife can quickly access large numbers of potential buyers.
The worry is that technology is opening lucrative new markets globally.
Ms. Stoner also added, “Although the findings are about illegal trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem.”
“Social media’s ability to put traffickers in touch with many potential buyers quickly, cheaply and anonymously is of concern for threatened wildlife and enforcement agencies which demands nothing short of a concerted global response.”
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