Wildlife black market booming online

A white-handed gibbon for sale in November 2014 (Supplied / TRAFFIC)
A white-handed gibbon for sale in November 2014 (Supplied / TRAFFIC)

The illegal animal trade is continuing to thrive – with criminals now turning to social media like Facebook to make their sales.

Unlike other Southeast Asian locations, Peninsular Malaysia doesn't have any open wildlife markets, but a report by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC has found traders are operating online.

TRAFFIC monitored 14 Facebook groups in Malaysia for 30 minutes each day, for five months.

In that period it discovered more than 350 live animals for sale online, many of them illegal, with a number of the exotic creatures being marketed as pets.

"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," says Kanitha Krishnasamy, Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia and report co-author.

Some of the animals found on the website included the critically endangered sun bear and orangutan.

Most of the animals available (44 percent) were birds, including different varieties of owls and the crested serpent-eagle, followed by reptiles (34 percent) and mammals (22 percent).

Overall, 86 percent of the advertised animals were protected internationally, with their trade either strictly regulated or prohibited.

Only three of the 236 advertisements claimed to have appropriate trade licences to sell the creatures.

There were more than 67,500 active members across the 14 closed groups. Within that, TRAFFIC identified 106 unique sellers advertising illegal trades.

"It is suspected that the use of online social networks to conduct wildlife trade is increasingly common," TRAFFIC writes in its report.

TRAFFIC contacted Facebook, which promised to work with the monitoring group to tackle the trade.

"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," a Facebook spokesperson says.

TRAFFIC senior crime data analyst Sarah Stoner says even though the report is focused on Malaysia, the online aspect reflects a serious issue worldwide and needs to be tackled globally.

"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.'' 

The full report is available online