Rare Malaysia species for sale online

The Malaysian loris is the new pet of choice. Source: Flickr

Poachers and smugglers are using social media to trade in rare and protected animals in Malaysia, wildlife conservationists warn.

Many endangered creatures, from rare birds to orangutans, are increasingly being advertised on Facebook and Instagram.

A World Wildlife Fund report, co-written with wildlife-trade monitor Traffic, released on World Wildlife Day, said: “Traders are clearly moving to non-conventional methods of sale, such as utilising online portals and social media, in order to evade detection, reach a broader audience and increase transaction efficiency and convenience.”

“You often find that in trading there’s a small percentage of people involved in illegal activity,” said Sarah Stoner from Traffic, a contributed to the report. “But we identified 236 posts where there was perceived illegal activity, there were 106 different sellers, that’s quite a lot of different people and it shows how prevalent it is.”

Growing numbers of traders were using Instagram, secret Facebook groups and password-protected internet forums, it added. The groups are free and easy to set up.

Traffic estimated that in one month in China in 2015, thousands of ivory products, 77 whole rhino horns and large numbers of endangered birds were available on popular Chinese sites such as QQ and WeChat.

‘The wildlife trade network is getting smarter and more sophisticated,’ WWF Malaysia director Dionysius Sharma said. “We need to be one step ahead and come up with creative solutions to eradicate this problem.”

The report focused on Malaysia as the main source of wildlife. Traffic said that during a 50-hour period last year, it tracked 14 Facebook wildlife-trading groups catering to customers in Malaysia, saying the groups had more than 67,500 active members.

Traffic said that during the monitoring period, it counted more than 200 posts offering to sell live wild animals, including orangutans, sun bears and endangered birds.

Bargaining reportedly happened on platforms like WhatsApp in Malaysia and BlackBerry Messenger in Indonesia.

The report said: “Trading appears to be very relaxed and traders will happily provide their contact details and will sometimes offer to deliver the animal to the buyer’s home address.”

Elizabeth John, a Traffic spokeswoman, said: “Having a dog or cat isn’t enough for people anymore. They want unusual and exotic pets now.” The loris, an endangered Southeast Asian primate, was becoming a Malaysian favourite, she added.

Traffic said it was working with the authorities in many countries on the issue and was calling on Facebook to cooperate.

“We are committed to working with Traffic to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia,” Facebook announced. “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.”

World Wildlife Day aims to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, the theme this year is “the future of wildlife is in our hands”, WWF said.