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Extinction online? Report cites wildlife on Web

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 released Tuesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Undated handout photograph released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare on August 16, 2005 shows confiscated carved ivory products from Kenya
Ivory carved from elephant tusks, such as these confiscated Kenyan products, were among the goods documented by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in its report on online purchases. David Willets / IFAW via Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

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 released Tuesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

From a “sweet natured” giraffe to reptile skin handbags, a snapshot survey of the World Wide Web by 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.”

Thousands of animals documented
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 ($8,141).

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.

Low risk, low priority
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.

“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,” said William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute.