The Sun newspaper in the UK has found endangered animal being peddled online, including cheetahs, leopards and tigers.
Conservationists have long been warning that social media platforms like Facebook are hotbeds of the illegal trade in endangered and threatened species. Traffickers routinely exploit the convenience of Facebook, which allows them to reach a large pool of prospective customers with ease.
And it isn’t just in developing nations like Thailand and the Philippines where law enforcement tends to remain lax that endangered species are being traded online. It’s also in countries like the United Kingdom.
An investigation by the Sun newspaper in the UK has found a variety of wild animals from around the planet being peddled to punters online, including big cats from cheetahs to lions and from leopards to tigers.
Journalists from the paper joined a “closed” group on Facebook to see what kind of animals could be bought from traders in the UK. Within hours after joining the group the journalists were offered cheetah, tiger, lion and leopard cubs. “One seller, based in Turkey, advertised tiger cubs for £2,300 each, lion cubs for £2,000 each and leopard cubs for £1,260 each. They claimed they could ship to the UK and they would arrive in ‘two days max’,” the Sun explains.
The seller insisted that the cubs were all “well trained and well tamed too,” which meant they could be kept indoors. As for sending the animals to the United Kingdom? Not a problem, according to a trafficker quoted by the newspaper. “‘I will need a day to get them ready and then documents will be supplied,'” the seller reportedly told the journalists who posed as prospective customers.
Selling illegal merchandise, including wildlife, is against Facebook’s guidelines, yet the wildlife trade on the social media giant remains robust. Policing the trade is a challenge because traders normally peddle their ill-gotten merchandise in private groups closed to outsiders. This makes the social media platform a convenient tool for international smuggling syndicates.
“[O]ne trader advertised tiger cubs for £2,800, Transvaal lion cubs for £1,800, African lion cubs for £1,400 and cheetah cubs for £1,100,” the Sun says. “Another seller claimed he could deliver a leopard cub from Germany to the buyer’s home address in Britain for £1,300 plus an extra £160 for shipping costs. He said: ‘Leopard cubs are fast selling pets and loved by many people around the world’,” the paper adds.
Keeping “wild, dangerous or exotic” is legally possible in the United Kingdom, provided owners receive a license for doing so. “None of those selling exotic animals on Facebook mentioned the need to obtain a licence from the local authority,” the Sun notes.
“Traders are increasingly turning to social media sites like Facebook to sell exotic animals,” Lis Key, who works for International Animal Rescue, told the newspaper. “The internet does make it easier for the traders to hide – and easier for them to reach a vast market.”
Facebook is among technology companies that have signed up to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s initiative The Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, which seeks to eradicate the illegal trade on numerous online platforms. Yet recently a cursory check of the platform by the Associated Press found “scores of internationally banned wildlife products for sale in public and private Facebook groups, most based in Southeast Asia,” according to the news organization says.
“Among the items available were belts made from what appeared to be the fur of Bengal tigers, a critically endangered species with only about 2,500 still living in the wild,” AP said. “Also advertised were horns from black rhinos, a species heavily targeted by poachers with little more than 5,000 still roaming Africa.”