spotted newt, kaiser's spotted newt
Mozarfar Sharifi/AP
Kaiser’s spotted newt

Buying and Selling Illegal Wildlife Flourishes Online

March 23, 2010 12:40 PM
by Colleen Brondou
The Internet has made it easier than ever to buy exotic animals and animal products, creating yet another threat to rare and endangered species.

CITES: Regulating the Illegal Wildlife Trade

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Qatar last week, conservationists and law enforcement officials gathered to examine how to regulate the Internet’s role in the illegal animal trade. As Michael Casey wrote for the Associated Press, “The Internet has emerged as one of the greatest threats to rare species, fueling the illegal wildlife trade and making it easier to buy everything from live baby lions to wine made from tiger bones.”

The United States and Sweden proposed regulating the red and pink coral trade, but the proposal was defeated. The coral is made into jewelry that’s sold mainly on the Internet. Japan, Iceland, Indonesia and Malaysia argued that the corals are necessary for the survival of local fishing communities.

Delegates did approve a proposal for tougher legislation to protect endangered tigers. Britain called for better control of tiger farms and a plan to “phase out traditional medicine markets which fuel demand for tiger parts,” Casey reported.

Opinion & Analysis: Is the Internet a real threat?

John Sellar, a CITES’ chief law enforcement officer, argued that the “impact of the Web was overblown,” according to Casey. Sellar says big animal dealers avoid using the Internet because payments can be traced.

“There seems to be little evidence that there are commercial operations using the Internet,” Sellar said. “Although the risks may be small depending on which country you are living in, you can be identified when using the Internet. So there are clearly risks there.”

But a CITES committee supported an e-commerce proposal that asked governments to draft rules to address the online animal trade and requested that law enforcement agencies create a unit dedicated to animal trade on the Internet.

The Kaiser’s spotted newt, found only in Iran, is an example of how the Web can help to decimate a species. According to Wildlife Extra, there are believed to be less than 1,000 mature newts in the wild, but their “numbers have declined by more than 80 percent in recent years.”

“The Internet itself isn’t the threat, but it’s another way to market the product,” Ernie Cooper of TRAFFIC Canada told AP. “The Kaiser's spotted newt, for example, is expensive and most people are not willing to pay $300 for a salamander. But through the power of the Internet, tapping into the global market, you can find buyers.”

Background: E-Commerce & the illegal animal trade

In 2005, Rachel Metz reported for Wired magazine that the Internet had “become a haven for sales of exotic pets and animal products, many of them illegal and made from endangered species.”

An International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) study, conducted from November 2004 to January 2005, discovered thousands of endangered animals and animal parts available for sale online. Animal trading sites, auction sites like eBay and even chat rooms were host to live wild animals and animal products.

“This has been a problem for a long time but it’s becoming worse because of the internet opening up new markets and globalization,” IFAW spokesman Chris Cutter told Metz.

An IFAW study in 2008 found more than 7,000 species sold on auction sites, chat rooms and classified ads, totaling $3.8 million in sales. Most of the sales took place in the United States, but also in Europe, Australia, Russia and China, AP reported. Illegal African ivory is the most popular item, but rare birds, pelts from protected species such as leopards and polar bears, and products such as tiger-bone wine are also available.

Related Topic: Woman selling endangered animal parts

Oakdale, Minn. Resident Pa Lor, an 86-year-old Hmong shaman, was sentenced in early 2009 for illegally importing animals parts that she planned to sell at a local market. Lor’s lawyer, Andrea George, argued that the Hmong woman’s traditional beliefs were to blame.

Reference: What makes a species endangered?

Take a look at the origins of the endangered species list and learn what qualifies a species for inclusion on the list.

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