The illegal trade in wildlife is one of the largest black markets in the world, third only to those in drugs and arms. The Internet has massively facilitated this trade, allowing sellers to connect with buyers quickly and cheaply, and with over one billion users, it might come as no surprise that Facebook is being used by some traffickers as an online marketplace.
After a five month investigation by the wildlife monitoring group Traffic, in which they spent around half an hour a day checking 14 Facebook groups, investigators found a roaring trade in iconic and often threatened animals. From sun bears and gibbons to otters and tortoises, the organization recorded over 300 wild, caught, live animals from 80 species being illegally sold over the social media site.
Traffic say that this trade – and its scale – has taken them by surprise because, unlike many other Southeast Asian countries, Peninsular Malaysia doesn’t actually have open wildlife markets. “The rise of social media appears to have enabled the creation of a thriving marketplace for wild animals as pets where one previously didn’t exist in Malaysia,” explains Kanitha Krishnasamy, Programme Manager for Traffic in Southeast Asia and coauthor of the new report published by the organization.
Despite only monitoring 14 groups, they contained a total of nearly 68,000 active members, with 106 identified unique sellers offering the animals up for sale. All of these groups were “closed,” meaning that members require an invite to join them which then allows the user to view and trade within. The majority of the species (93 percent) found for sale within these groups have legal protection in Peninsular Malaysia, and 25 of the species are protected under international law.
Image in text: Critically endangered radiated tortoises from Madagascar were also seen for sale. Traffic
A baby white handed gibbon, sun bear cubs, and banded langur all for sale in the Facebook groups. Traffic
The most common species for sale was the leopard cat, used in both traditional medicine and kept as pets, with other frequently sold species offered including the Sunda slow loris and the crested serpent eagle. While some endangered non-native species were being trafficked, notably the critically endangered radiated tortoise from Madagascar, many of the animals up for sale were native, suggesting that there is a previously unknown thriving market for local wildlife within Malaysia.
Being made aware of the report, Facebook issued a statement: “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.” The wildlife organization also shared their findings with Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, who have already arrested at least 53 illegal traders, saving 67 species from being trafficked.
But still, too little is being done to control this online trade. A recent paper published in Conservation Biology looking into the scale of the trade in wildlife on the darknet, the underground “Internet” often used to sell drugs and weapons, found surprisingly few animals being sold, and concluded that since the sale on the regular Internet was so easy and laws never enforced, that there was no need to hide the trade.
Image in text: Sunda slow loris were the sixth most common animal being sold on Facebook. Traffic