GORILLAS, rare big cats or other endangered wild animals are on sale illegally on the internet. In just one week, investigators found 146 live primates offered for sale on the web, with nearly 9,000 wildlife products such as elephant tusks. Most of these products, including the tusks, come from protected species, and the trade in some animals — chimpanzees captured in the wild, for example — is outlawed internationally.
Research by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reveals an alarming trade in wildlife that encourages poaching and threatens rare creatures with extinction. It says that internet trading has provided fresh impetus to illegal sales of animals and is becoming the vital market for criminal gangs of poachers.
“This illegal trade has devastating implications for both wildlife conservation and animal welfare,” IFAW states in its report, Caught in the Web, published today. “IFAW found a shocking array of species in which all commercial trade is prohibited or strictly regulated, including some of the world’s most endangered species.”
Among live animals offered on the web were a “hand-reared” Siberian tiger for £39,000, Asiatic serval cats, a pet lion and a green turtle “which the seller claimed was captured from a South-East Asian rainforest”. Animal body parts included hawksbill turtle shells, shahtoosh shawls from the Tibetan antelope and taxidermy specimens of lions. Trade in ivory, largely illegal unless the sample dates from before 1947, was common.
Even a quick browse of the web yesterday revealed one site in the US, where rules on owning wild animals are less strict than in the UK, advertising chimpanzees for £36,000, a giraffe for £28,000 and Nile crocodiles for £166, or less if bought in bulk. IFAW has reported this website to the US authorities for trading in chimpanzees, which is prohibited if they are taken from the wild.
A seven-year-old gorilla said to be in London was offered for sale at £4,500 and the advert read: “A gorilla currently needs a new home due to relocation of owner.” It was reported to the Metropolitan Police.
Gorillas are so endangered in the wild that all trade in them has been banned by the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
In a random week in January the campaign group identified thousands of wildlife products available to UK web users. The real figure will be much higher because researchers looked at only elephant, primate, turtle and tortoise, wild cat and reptile sales. Birds and traditional Asian remedies were not included and researchers concluded that their findings represented “only the tip of the iceberg”.
Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of IFAW UK, said: “Trade on the internet is easy, cheap and anonymous. It is clear that unscrupulous traders and sophisticated criminal gangs are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the world wide web. The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world’s rarest animals is being traded away. Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops, the killing will too.” The report adds: “Entire populations of certain species — in some cases, the whole species — risk being wiped out by over-exploitation. ”
Some animal trade is legal but there are serious concerns about the welfare of animals involved, especially the primates. “Millions of animals caught up in the trade suffer immensely during hunting, capture and, in the case of live trade, transport and captivity. Many die.”
IFAW called yesterday for laws on animal trading to be clarified, both for sellers and for purchasers, for a whistleblowing hotline to be set up, and for a legally binding code of practice to be drawn up for web auction sites. In particular, it called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to draw up an internet reference site to show the legal requirements for importing animals, as it does for food.
GOING PRICE FOR EXOTIC ANIMALS
Siberian tiger: £39,000