August 16, 2005

Internet Shoppers Destroying Endangered Wildlife

LONDON -- Internet shoppers in search of the exotic have sparked a booming trade that is threatening the existence of many endangered species, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

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 UK 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 that the illegal worldwide trade in endangered species and products is worth billions of dollars a year, and note that 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 organized crime.

IFAW 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.