Malaysia: Endangered animals sold via FB, says group

PATRICK LEE The Star Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: Hundreds of threatened animals are up for sale online, a study by a green group tracking several local Facebook groups found.

In a five-month survey from 2014 to last year, wildlife trade watchdog Traffic South-East Asia found 236 different posts with protected animals such as the sun bear and slow loris “not very secretly” being sold for up to thousands of ringgit each.

“Many Malaysians are online on Facebook, buying and selling protected wildlife.

“There seems to be very little fear of getting caught,” its senior communications officer Elizabeth John told The Star.

Released online yesterday, the report shows some 106 unique individual sellers and four shops offering wild animals in posts spanning 14 Facebook groups.

The searches came up with Traffic only spending about 30 minutes to browse these Facebook groups each day during the study.

A majority of these animals being sold were also native to Malaysia.

The report added that only three of the 236 posts mentioned licences together with the sale of these animals.

“Any reference to licences is rare,” it said.

Malaysian law states that anyone who hunts or keeps any protected wildlife without a licence can be fined up to RM50,000 or jailed for up to two years.

The penalties are higher for young or female protected animals.

John believed that what Traffic found was only the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m sure if we widened the search ... We will find a lot more,” she said.

The report comes over a week after an exclusive report by The Star showed how easy it was to buy an endangered animal online.

A totally protected Brahminy kite priced at RM600 was sent to a hair salon for final delivery after just two days and a few Whatsapp messages. The shop was later raided by Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) officers.

Perhilitan enforcement division director Hasnan Yusop said the trend of selling protected animals online was difficult to police.

“Users from each of the many groups or pages come from individuals that use fake accounts to confuse the authorities,” he said.


Facebook wildlife trade prompts fears among environmentalists
Matt McGrath BBC 3 Mar 16;

Environmentalists say they are worried about the emergence of Facebook as an online marketplace for trade in endangered species.

Wildlife monitoring network Traffic found hundreds of protected animals for sale on Facebook groups in Malaysia, including sun bears, gibbons, and binturongs, also known as bearcats.

It says this type of illegal trading is a growing threat around the world.

Facebook said it "will not hesitate" to remove content promoting such trade.

The researchers monitored 14 Facebook groups for 30 minutes daily over a period of five months. They found more than 300 wild, live animals for sale as pets.

"You often find that in trading there's a small percentage of people involved in illegal activity," said Sarah Stoner from Traffic, one of the report's authors.

"But we identified 236 posts where there was perceived illegal activity, there were 106 different sellers, that's quite a lot of different people and it shows how prevalent it is."

The researchers say the development of an online trade is surprising in Malaysia because open wildlife markets are not found in the country, unlike in other parts of Asia.

"The demand for these animals has always existed in Malaysia but it's never really had an outlet to flourish whereas the internet and Facebook seems to be providing that platform to enable the trade to happen in this manner," said Sarah Stoner.

Almost half of the species recorded were protected and illegal to sell under Malaysian law. Some 25 of the 69 non-native animals protected under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Traffic say they have shared the details of their investigation with Facebook who are looking to develop practical solutions to combat the trade.
"We are committed to working with Traffic to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia," Facebook said in a statement.

"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 investigators also passed on their information to the Malaysian authorities.

"We have carried out 43 successful seizures, arrested at least 54 illegal traders and saved over 67 wildlife species from being traded illegally on Facebook,'' said Hasnan Yusop, from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, who pointed out that his colleagues have been Facebook groups selling wildlife since 2013.

''More importantly, we also want to send out a stern warning - if anyone is caught violating our law, they will face harsh penalties," he added.

Investigators are concerned that the use of social media and smartphones means that anyone interested in selling wildlife can rapidly access huge numbers of potential buyers.

They are worried that technology is opening lucrative new markets, all over the world.

"Although the findings are about illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem," said Traffic's Sarah Stoner.

"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.''


Facebook Groups: Malaysia’s new wildlife trade marketplace
TRAFFIC 3 Mar 16;
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 3rd March 2016—Malaysians are turning Facebook into a wildlife marketplace, driving a roaring and often illegal trade in iconic and threatened animals, according to a new report from TRAFFIC.

Just half an hour’s daily monitoring over five months by TRAFFIC researchers of 14 Facebook Groups in Peninsular Malaysia found more than 300 apparently wild, live animals for sale as pets, ranging from Sun Bears Helarctos malayanus and gibbons, to otters and even Binturong Arctictis binturong.

The previously undocumented trade was unexpected because Peninsular Malaysia does not have open wildlife markets like those found elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

“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,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia and a co-author of the new report, Trading Faces: A Rapid Assessment on the use of Facebook to Trade Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia (PDF, 2.2 MB).

Most surprising was the level of domestic trade in live native animals: more than 60% of the 80 species recorded during the monitoring were native to Malaysia, indicating a demand for local wildlife as pets. Almost half of the species recorded were totally protected from hunting or trade and illegal to sell under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Twenty five of the 69 non-native species for sale, including the Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea from Indonesia and the Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora from Madagascar, were protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which restricts or prohibits their commercial international trade.

Most of the 14 Facebooks Groups were “Closed Groups”, requiring membership to view and trade online. At the time of monitoring, the Groups boasted close to 68,000 active members while the 106 identified unique sellers had made little effort to conceal their illegal activities.

TRAFFIC shared the outcomes of the research with Facebook, who responded positively and are collaborating with TRAFFIC to identify practical solutions to prevent abuse of their platform in Malaysia and beyond.

“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,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

TRAFFIC also shared its findings with Peninsular Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) who have launched a number of successful operations against wildlife traders operating on the social networking site.

“We recognize the scale of this problem as we have been monitoring over 30 Facebook Groups selling wildlife since 2013. PERHILITAN has taken measures to address the problem, including working with other law enforcement agencies to stop the illegal trade of wildlife on Facebook. We have carried out 43 successful seizures, arrested at least 54 illegal traders and saved over 67 wildlife species from being traded illegally on Facebook,'' said Hasnan Yusop, PERHILITAN's Director of Enforcement.

“More importantly, we also want to send out a stern warning – if anyone is caught violating our law, they will face harsh penalties,” he added.

“We’re yet to grasp the full extent of the online threat to wildlife, but initial discussions with Facebook and the early enforcement successes by Perhilitan have been encouraging, although continued action will be crucial in curbing this spiraling form of illegal trade,’’ said Krishnasamy.

The report’s recommendations include a call for closer collaboration between enforcement agencies and Facebook to enable effective targeting of offenders and a request for social media sites to do more to raise awareness about the issue and denounce illegal activity.

Additionally, the report recommends a dedicated forum be set up at the regional and global levels for governments, social networking bodies and NGO partners to find realistic solutions to the problem.

“Although the findings are about illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem,” said Sarah Stoner, a Senior Crime Data Analyst with TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“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 Trading Faces: A Rapid Assessment on the use of Facebook to Trade Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia report was produced with the support of WWF-Netherlands.

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