Orangutans. Cheetahs. Parrots. These animals are all endangered, but there is something else they have in common, which is this: you can buy them online in Europe.
According to a study by the conservationist group International Fund for Animal Welfare, there is industrial-scale trafficking in live animals as well as the parts of endangered animals across the continent. The nonprofit’s researchers spent six weeks tracking nearly 5,400 advertisements in 106 online marketplaces in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Russia.
Their finding: nearly 12,000 illegally trafficked items were on sale, belonging to a wide variety of endangered species from around the planet. The total value of the items amounted to around €3.36 million. And this despite an ongoing initiative by Internet giants like Google, eBay and Microsoft to roll back the practice.
Particularly popular in online stores, accounting for a fifth of surveyed ads, were ivory products. So were Rhino horns with the sellers often using code words for their illicit fare. Yet everything from polar bear skins to live cheetahs are being offered for sale online by unscrupulous traffickers, the nonprofit says.
“In the past decade, more than 7,000 rhinos have been poached for their horns. Today, the rhino population is estimated to be as low as around 28,000,” the IFAW says in its report. “It is estimated that more than 20,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory, with one survey finding that numbers plummeted by around 144,000 between 2007 and 2014.”
Live animals can also be bought online as part of the clandestine exotic pet trade on the continent, including reptiles, endangered birds and even big cats like leopards, cheetahs and jaguars. Of the latter, most were offered for sale in Russia, where some people like to keep live big cats to flaunt their wealth and status. Scores of live primates such as orangutans, gibbons and lemurs are also being advertised online for exotic animal hobbyists.
Nor is the practice of selling endangered animals and their parts online limited to Europe. Elsewhere across the globe too, from South America to Southeast Asia, traffickers have taken to social media sites like Facebook to peddle their ill-gotten merchandise. Stamping out the illegal trade will require concerted action from governments, law enforcement agencies and NGOs alike.