August 16, 2005

Web shoppers destroying endangered wildlife-report

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Internet shoppers in search of the
exotic have sparked a booming trade that is threatening the
existence of many endangered species, a report on Tuesday said.

From a "sweet natured" giraffe to reptile skin handbags, a
snapshot survey of the World Wide Web by the International Fund
for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found hundreds of live primates and
thousands of rare animal products being offered for sale.

"Trade on the Internet is easy, cheap and anonymous," said
IFAW UK director Phyllis Campbell-McRae. "The result is a cyber
black market where the future of the world's rarest animals is
being traded away."

"Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when
the buying stops, the killing will too," she added. "Buying
wildlife online is as damaging as killing it yourself."

The report "Caught in the web - wildlife trade on the
Internet" found, in just one week, 146 live primates, 5,527
elephant products, 526 turtle and tortoiseshells, 2,630 reptile
products and 239 wild cat products for sale.

Apart from the two-year-old giraffe for sale on a U.S. site
for $15,000, there was also a seven-year-old gorilla living in
London in need of a new home "due to relocation of owner"
offered for sale on a British site for 4,500 pounds.

Baby chimpanzees were offered at between $60,000 and
$65,000 in the United States, while in Wales a pair of breeding
cotton-head tamarins were going for 1,900 pounds.

Seahorse skeletons were among the more exotic items on
offer, along with an elephant-foot ashtray, ivory sculptures,
Tibetan antelope hair shawls known as shahtoosh, wild cat
products, snakeskin jackets and crocodile skin boots.

Experts estimate the illegal worldwide trade in endangered
species and products is worth billions of dollars a year, and
note the boom in Internet auction sites has simply added
another avenue.

Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service has said
that the meager penalties and generally low priority attached
to wildlife crime are scant deterrents to organised crime.

"The trade, both legal and illegal, in live and dead
animals -- including body parts -- is increasing and the
Internet is coming to play a central role in the activities of
illegal traders," the IFAW report said.

It called on national governments to educate consumers
about the laws on trade in endangered species and bring in
tougher laws and better policing of the Internet.

"Laws exist to stop the unlawful use of any communications
medium, but governments and agencies need to communicate in
order to address activities that span the globe," William
Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, said.