Revealed: the illegal online animal trade

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They are marketed as the perfect birthday present for animal-loving children, or a classy addition to the image-conscious suburban home.

However, the products being sold on hundreds of internet sites are not soft toys or unusual knick knacks, but potentially-dangerous live animals from the world's most endangered species.

Gorillas, tigers, and chimps can be bought for as little as a few hundred pounds, despite international bans on their sale.

The illegal online trade in rare and exotic wildlife is now worth billions of pounds and sales are soaring, according to a new report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

In just one week, IFAW investigators found more than 9,000 live animals and products made from endangered species for sale on internet auction sites, chat rooms and classified pages, despite the fact that 70 per cent of the species and specimens were protected under law.

The scale of the trade is astonishing.

Want a gorilla in your backyard? It's yours for £4,500 from a classified ad on the internet - just come to London and pick it up, with no proof needed of any capacity or ability to look after such a beast.

Gorillas are among the most highly-endangered species on the planet and all commercial trade in them is prohibited under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

They are potentially lethal and need expert care and treatment, yet IFAW found a British-based website selling a seven-year-old gorilla in January this year "due to relocation of its owner."

Giraffes have also been offered for sale. A US website, GotPetsOnline.com was offering a "sweet natured" two-year-old for sale for $15,000.

Experts are particularly concerned at the way monkeys are marketed and traded on the net.

At www.ad-mart.co.uk, in January, a Welsh trader was offering a pair of breeding cotton-headed tamarin monkeys for sale for £1,900.

When IFAW investigators approached the buyer, they were told they would not need any special licenses or documentation.

Yet the species is protected under CITES and any buyer would need to apply to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for special approval, as well as obtaining a Dangerous Wild Animals licence.

Other, American-based websites sell monkeys along with "cute" accessories such as nappies, feeding bottles, clothes and toys, adding to the impression that these are a slightly more lively version of a doll.

Traders in live primates call themselves "Monkey Moms" and the animals "monkids".

When the IFAW undercover investigators contacted some of the US traders, they were told it would be possible to export them to the UK - a blatant breach of EU law.

Experts are concerned that demand for monkeys and chimps is fuelling the illegal capturing and trading of wild species.

Where there were two million chimpanzees in the wild a century ago, there are now fewer than 150,000 left.

As well as live animals, there is a booming market in illegal ivory, tiger skins and other products on the internet.

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of IFAW UK, said: "Trade on the internet is easy, cheap and anonymous. However, it is clear that unscrupulous traders and sophisticated criminal gangs are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the web.

"The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world's rarest animals is being traded away. This situation must be tackled immediately by governments and website owners before it is too late."

She added: "Each one of us also has a responsibility to stop buying and selling wild animals and wildlife products. Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops the killing will too. Our message to online shoppers is simple - buying wildlife online is as damaging as killing it yourself."

Jim Knight, biodiversity minister, said: "We take the issue of wildlife crime in all its forms very seriously.

"The National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit is working closely with internet service providers to raise awareness of wildlife controls and to enhance intelligence gathering on wildlife crime.

The Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit was also moved from a part time to a full time investigative department.

Andy Fisher, head of the unit, said: "Ten years ago, the issue wasn't really being taken seriously, but I think it's time has now come and we are really cracking down on it."

The animals facing extinction

TIGERS

Threatened by poaching and loss of habitat, there are only about 5,000 tigers living in the wild; but thanks to the thriving trade in exotic pets, some 10,000 tigers live in captivity in the US. One US website advertised two-week old male and female tiger cubs for just $1,500 each.

RHINOS

All five species of rhino are threatened with extinction, thanks to the trade in rhino horns which are carved into ornaments or used in traditional Asian medicine. A website called "Vintage Louis Vuitton" offered a rhino footstool, but closed when IFAW asked for the necessary documents.

GORILLAS

The bushmeat trade, the captive live trade, and the loss of habitats have devastated the world's gorilla population, with only 650 mountain gorillas surviving in the wild. In January, an advert offered a gorilla for sale in London, "due to relocation of its owner." The price was £4,500.

SEA HORSES

At least 20 of the world's 33 known sea horse species face extinction, due to the trade of live animals for aquariums, and dried sea horses for use in Chinese medicine. IFAW found many skeletons for sale on eBay. One ad said: "This could be your last chance to own one of these little beauties."

Comments