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Thursday
Mar032016

Facebook Groups: Malaysia’s new wildlife trade marketplace

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.

ENDS

For further information, contact:
Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia
Tel: 03-7880 3940/ +60122079790     Email: elizabeth.john@traffic.org

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