Online Wildlife Trade is being ‘Rolled Back,’ but Challenges Remain
All a wildlife trafficker needs is a computer and an Internet connection. Photo Credit: Amazon.com
A lot of wildlife trafficking in Malaysia takes place in the laissez-faire milieu of the cyber world, where traffickers have taken to hugely popular social media platforms like Facebook to buy and sell protected and endangered species in wanton abandon. Yet if Fakhrul Hatta Musa, deputy director of Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), is to be believed, Malaysian wildlife authorities have made headway against the illicit online trade.
That is thanks to the work of a special cyber crime unit, which has been tasked with monitoring social media sites for the online sale of wild animals. “In the last few years the department had caught many illegal online traders,” he told Free Malaysia Today, adding that between 2013 and 2016, a total of 69 people were caught in 54 operations nationwide for selling wild animals online. “We have our intelligence unit that works closely with the MCMC to nab the offenders,” he noted. “We also conduct joint operations with the police when the need arises.”
Among the animals offered up for sale on social media, usually as part of a clandestine exotic pet trade, have been numerous protected species seen as “cute,” including juvenile leaf monkeys, slow lorises and binturongs. “As many as 100 Facebook accounts have been identified offering wildlife for sale and half of the wildlife products offered were illegal,” Fakhrul said, echoing similar claims made last summer by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.
Yet despite such welcome progress, the problem clearly remains acute. Buying “exotic” animals via social media platforms remains fairly easy, based on an investigation conducted last year by the Star newspaper. In fact, according to a recent survey by the international anti-trafficking watchdog TRAFFIC, the online sale of protected animals has reached alarming levels in Malaysia. After a five-month investigation, TRAFFIC’s researchers discovered that more than a dozen Facebook groups in Peninsular Malaysia alone were dedicated to buying and selling hundreds of protected species from Malayan sun bears to gibbons.
Sadly, owing to the spread of social media, all wildlife traffickers need these days is a computer and an Internet connection, and they are in business. That said, all we need to keep an eye on them is another computer. The key to stop them, in other words, is simple vigilance.