Internet Trade in Exotic Animals Threatens Endangered Species

According to a recently released study by the U.K. chapter of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a booming Internet trade in exotic animal parts is hastening the extinction of a host of endangered wildlife species around the world. The report, “Caught in the Web, Wildlife Trade on the Internet,” cites hundreds of examples of live primates and thousands of rare animal products—for the most part the product of illegal poaching—for sale via websites (such as over the course of just one recent week.

“Trade on the Internet is easy, cheap and anonymous,” says Phyllis Campbell-McRae, IFAW’s U.K. director. “The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world’s rarest animals is being traded away.”

Environmentalists complain that without stricter penalties and better enforcement by both national and international authorities, the trade in exotic animals and their parts will continue to flourish unchecked on the Internet and elsewhere. IFAW is calling for a code of practice for Internet auction sites and for the laws on animal trading to be clarified.

But Campbell-McRae concedes that since much of the trade is thriving in the gray area of cross-border Internet-based commerce, reducing demand through increased education might be the only hope of eliminating illegal sales. “Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops, the killing will too,” she says. “Buying wildlife online is as damaging as killing it yourself.”

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