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Friday, October 24, 2008

Want a Chimp? Endangered Animals for Sale Online

By Alexis Madrigal Email


Maybe there really isn't anything that you can't buy online.

Endangered animals, including chimps, marmosets and leopard cubs, are being bought and sold online, according to a new report.

Over six one-week observation periods earlier this year, the International Fund for Animal Welfare found more than 1,400 live, exotic animals being traded online. IFAW data released to revealed that most of the advertisements were for birds, but in the United States alone, 13 primates, five big cats and two rhinos were offered.

Barbara Cartwright, who heads up the IFAW's efforts to restrict wildlife trade on the internet, said her organization believes that many online advertisements lead to offline transactions beyond the reach of their tracking.

"If I put up an ad for a chimpanzee, you call me, and then we can talk about what I really have," Cartwright said, describing a possible offline networking scenario between illegal animal traders.

While many animals are legal to trade, endangered species are not. The IFAW's Killing with Keystrokes report found that the internet's global reach has enabled buyers and sellers of rare species — and the products derived from them — to find each other more easily. As is often the case, regulators have been a step behind the marketplace in their efforts to stop illegal activities.

Last night, ahead of the release of the report, eBay instituted a complete ban on the sale of elephant ivory through the auction service. EBay did not cite the report in announcing the ban and did not return solicitations for comment. Nonetheless, the IFAW hailed the action as a victory.

Stamping out the live animal trade could prove more difficult, however, as the number and nature of websites involved in the trade is different. Whereas most of the ivory trade could be directly traced to eBay, live animal trafficking takes place across dozens of American, British and Russian websites, largely forums and classified ad sites.

While the United States had the largest number (1,034) of live animal advertisements, Russia had the most varied list of species including two types of tigers, a crocodile, an ocelot and a bonobo.

Cartwright said that extensive efforts were undertaken to ensure the animals advertised in the IFAW were not hoaxes or scams, but represented an actual animal being sold.

Image: flickr/Lukas Vermeer