Trade in Wildlife

Maneka Gandhi

Maneka GandhiSome years ago I found an Indian site selling a tiger skin from Meerut. I informed the police , the site was raided , the owners arrested and the tigerskin confiscated. The site never displayed animals again.

A music shop in Mumbai advertised drums with monitor lizard skin on the net. Unfortunately for them I was looking for musical instruments. The shop was raided and many more things were found. They were shut down, the owners arrested and the site went off the air.

Recently we found a house in Agra with 14,000 jars of animals that had been made ready to sell to school / college laboratories all over the world : they contained sharks, squirrels, owls, every kind of bird. The smuggler was a retired secretary in the fisheries ministry ! We found a list of his associates. When they were raided , all they had were computers and internet sites on which they advertised.

We suspected a shop in Delhi of selling ivory. We sent them a fake buyer and address from Australia. Within 15 minutes the buyer was rung up. Something he said may not have been right because the shop said , we will get back to you and never called again. But there was no doubt about their intention.

In August this year 57,shatoosh shawls have been seized from traders who had advertised the products on the Internet to attract foreign buyers. 80 highly endangered turtles were seized in Kolkata on their way to an internet buyer

The internet , since it is anonymous and unregulated, has become a haven for the sale of exotic animals and animal products made from endangered species. In just two months, International Fund for Animal Welfare found thousands of endangered animals and animal products available for purchase over the internet, including a live Siberian tiger , a lion, peregrine falcons and many medicines made from leopard, tiger, rhino and elephant parts. During a one-week period in January, the study found more than 9,000 live wild animals and animal products and specimens for sale, predominantly from species under legal protection (: 146 live primates, 5000 elephant products, 3000 turtle and tortoiseshell products, reptile products and 239 wild cat products) - in just the UK alone. The animals and products were offered on animal-trading websites, in chat rooms and on auction sites like eBay.

The internet has made it easy for poachers and traders in exotic animals. IFAW showed several sites selling endangered animals protected by international law. One is Rainbow Primates, which offers various monkeys for sale, including two capuchins, two java monkeys and a spider monkey. The head of the site , David Davis defended himself by saying that America was a democracy and people should have the right to possess whichever animal they wanted as a pet. Which means that Americans were free to raid the rest of the world’s forests.

Other sites pointed out for selling exotic animals include Schreiner Farms and Awesome Exotic's . The Animal Protection Institute estimates that there are more than 1,000 Internet sites dedicated to the sale, trade or care of exotic animals. In one month 150 Dutch-language websites were found to be selling endangered species of mammals, land tortoises and sea turtles, protected birds, reptiles and amphibians The online portal "Marktplaats" which is one of eBay’s subsidiary sites in the Netherlands advertises 8,000 offers of endangered species of wild birds every day. CEEWEB, a network of environmental organizations in Central and Eastern Europe revealed that the value of the illegal trade in wildlife on the Internet has already surpassed that of illicit in-store sales in seven countries in that region

Mammal products range from black bear skulls, stuffed seals, sperm whale teeth , stuffed birds , panther, leopard, lynx and lion skins, claws and tails, elephant feet (TRAFFIC found that an average of 1,000 items per week advertised as elephant ivory are offered on eBay ). Every day thousands of wild animals and animal parts – from live chimpanzees and ivory tusks to dried seahorses – are being traded in cyberspace. Gorillas( less than 200 left in the world), tigers, and chimps can be bought .

Giraffes have also been offered for sale on a US website, At, in January, a Welsh trader offered a pair of cotton-headed tamarin monkeys for sale . Other websites sell monkeys along with "cute" accessories such as nappies, feeding bottles, clothes . There are only 3,000 tigers left in the wild. But that didn’t stop one US website from advertising a two-week old male and female tiger cubs . A website called "Vintage Louis Vuitton" offered a rhino footstool. At least 20 of the world's 33 sea horse species face extinction due to the trade of live animals for aquariums, and dried sea horses for use in Chinese medicine.One internet ad said: " This could be your last chance to own one of these little beauties."

While animal welfare groups are working with local police and Interpol in order to stop this kind of trade, laws in each country need to be toughened. For instance , India has an insane wildlife protection act which says that Indian birds cannot be sold but foreign birds can. Many foreign birds have been smuggled into the country and they are endangered ( specially the parrots) in their own.

eBay ‘s excuse is that it doesn’t know which animals are illegal in which country, its auctions are secret, it permits dead and stuffed animals and animal parts and its wildlife police is that if anything was killed or made before a law for passed – ivory statues, leopard coats, rhino horns etc – it can be sold. Since no one on eBay is an expert on judging age and most of the animals and their parts are from third world countries with easy access to fake documents , this leaves the window wide open for all the criminals of the world. The scope of the illegal trade in wildlife – on a par with the illegal drug trade and arms trafficking - is dramatically increasing online. It will continue to do so unless action is taken to address this issue.

How can the problem be tackled ? By regulating the physical movement of animals and their parts.This means tightening customs.Another way is to shift the burden of proof to the owner of an animal or wildlife product who should be obliged to prove its legality (via an international system of certification, already in place, called CITES). One example: eBay in Germany requires that every piece of ivory offered for sale show proof of legality. This action has already reduced the numbers of ivory on offer by 98%! But eBay Germany is a lone example, as most other online marketplaces (including eBay sites in other countries)do nothing. Online marketplaces all over the world need to be more proactive in policing their own sites for illegal products.
Third world enforcement agencies often hide behind the excuse that they do not have the resources to tackle this issue. They should find the resources. Wildlife crime hurts society and risks the livelihoods of future generations. Having made the commitment to comply with international law, countries have assumed the responsibility for its adequate enforcement. Because of the enormous monetary stakes involved international criminal syndicates have taken over the action. The participation of these types of organizations is now endangering the lives of people charged with protecting them: in the past 15 years in Kenya alone, 21 rangers were killed while protecting wildlife. In India hundreds of forest rangers have been killed or wounded..

If you want to save animals but have no time because you work in an office , here is what you can do :

Take time out to surf the net every day looking for wildlife offers. If you come across offers on the Internet dealing in wildlife products or live protected animal species that pertain to our country, then report these activities to your national authorities . There are many animals advertised abroad that could only have come from our region : peacocks, turtles, seahorses, langurs, cobras etc. Get a listing of the wildlife in our country and use it. If any site displays any of our animals , report it immediately.

Write an e-mail to eBay and any other site and draw attention to offers you come across. Demand that eBay remove illegal wildlife offers from the auction site immediately.. Since it operates nationally as well, it can be taken to court in India and forced into having mechanisms for reporting illegal wildlife sales.

Consumer demand is what drives the wildlife trade. The sale of endangered animals will only stop when there are no buyers. Wild animals are not commodities. Regardless of whether an item was a souvenir or an heirloom, do not resell it. Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops the killing will too. Buying wildlife online is as damaging as killing it yourself.

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