Primates and monkeys sold online in EU

Barbary apes are being put up for sale on websites in Poland. [Stephen Zopf/Flickr]

Primates and monkeys are being sold in the European Union through websites like eBay, a report has found.

Endangered frogs, lizards, turtles, tortoises and exotic birds are advertised online in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

As well as live animals, there is also a roaring trade in dead animals, especially ivory, but also bear and wolf skin.

A six-week investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) early this year found a total of 33,006 endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and products for sale on 280 online market places across 16 countries.

54% of the adverts worldwide were for live animals in the online sweep. The total cost of the advertised animals was US$10,708,137. 1,192 of the 9,482 advertisements investigated were reported to law enforcement.

The investigation targeted the sale of species listed on Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which regulates and restricts the trade.

Many of the 280 online sites monitored either didn’t ask customers to demonstrate that their trade met with national laws, or else the provisos were hidden to the extent that customers simply wouldn’t be aware of them, IFAW said.

Six of the 16 are EU member states. 79 EU websites were offering animals and animal products for a total cost of €2,173,393

  • There were 27 adverts for primates in Poland, including Barbary apes, savanna and patas monkeys, and marmosets. The total cost of “products” offered on 12 online marketplaces was €98,727.02.
  • The majority (about 70%) of the online ads in Germany, across 13 websites, were for turtles and tortoises at a total cost of €496,832.
  • Dutch collectors were bidding for exotic frogs, lizards, and birds. 11 sites were offering animals worth €72,072.
  • A third of UK ads were for ivory but, in a finding unique to Britain, 61 owls were also being sold. 13 sites were selling for a combined €380,520.97.
  • Birds and turtles were on sale in France, but birds and turtles each made up a quarter of the adverts. 17 online marketplaces were selling for a combined amount of €984,100.
  • Belgium’s trade was dominated by ivory. 13 sites offered products worth €141,141.

Ivory, or suspected ivory, made up more than 32% of all animals and products for sale worldwide, while reptiles came in a close second, at over 26%. More than 100,000 elephants had lost their lives to ivory poachers in the past three years.

Share of online adverts worldwide [IFAW]Share of online adverts worldwide [IFAW]

“As poaching reaches alarming levels, wildlife cybercrime poses a sinister, silent threat to endangered species, including elephants, reptiles and birds, enabling criminals to go about their grisly business with anonymity,” said Azzedine Downes, president and CEO of IFAW.

The IFAW exposed the grisly cybertrade in a new report  Wanted – Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade.

It called on new Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to deliver an EU Action Plan backed by his predecessor Janez Poto?nik.

IFAW EU spokesman Adrian Hiel said, “The EU Commission has done the ground work in developing an EU Action Plan on Wildlife Trafficking

“This report shows that it is time to roll out the Action Plan to tackle wildlife trafficking in the EU. Wildlife trafficking is a cross-border, pan-European issue which demands an EU response. Only an EU Action Plan on Wildlife Trafficking can bring the resources and coordination of member states together that is necessary to tackle this insidious trade,” he said.

The IFAW investigation focused on the “surface-web” namely open-source websites commonly referred to as online marketplaces, where products are freely available to the public.

Online marketplaces should work with police and customs to thwart cybercriminals, IFAW said. Governments also needed to introduce stronger legislation to specifically target online wildlife crime, it added.

Dutch online advert for reptiles [IFAW]Dutch online advert for reptiles [IFAW]

eBay has introduced tougher preventative measures on its site as a result of cooperation with IFAW and other organisations, and this year will take tougher sanctions against sellers who flout eBay’s policies on wildlife products.

Director Wolfgang Weber said, “eBay does not tolerate illegal wildlife trade on its site […] eBay policies regarding ivory are stricter than the law and generally prohibit all ivory products. eBay is committed to an ongoing programme of strict enforcement, working closely with IFAW as well as law enforcement.” 

Worldwide, the illegal wildlife trade is not only a threat to wildlife but also to national and global security, and to social and economic development in the countries where it occurs, IFAW said.

Wildlife crime ranks among the most serious, dangerous and damaging of international crimes along with human trafficking, drug running and illegal arms sales. Illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated US$19-billion a year.

Hiel said, “We know that organised crime is heavily involved in wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking can be as profitable as smuggling cocaine without the threat of serious jail time.

“Smugglers know that if they are caught, they are likely to get only a slap on the wrist. An EU Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan would increase penalties so they are an actual deterrent to smuggling wildlife.”

British advert for ivoryBritish advert for ivory
  • ALDE MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who initiated and championed a European Parliament resolution on wildlife crime said:

"The time for talking is over. Now that the new Commission is up and running and a stakeholder consultation has been carried out, there is absolutely no excuse anymore to wait with any longer with an European Action Plan to combat wildlife crime. The European Parliament already called for an action plan in January this year."

"The IFAW report once more confirms that the EU is an important factor in illegal wildlife trafficking. Commissioner Vella needs to take action now, before it's too late."

  • ALDE MEP Catherine Bearder, who a few weeks ago sent a letter to Karmenu Vella co-signed by 81 MEPs calling on him to come forward with an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Crime, commented:

"This report shows that wildlife crime is not just a distant issue, it is happening right under our noses here in Europe.

"The EU can and must take action to stamp out this vile trade."

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