Gibbons, langurs, otters, sun bears. Those are just some of the hundreds of live animals listed for sale on Facebook in Malaysia. Many of them are vulnerable species, some of them critically endangered. Traffic, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, released a report today that exposes rampant illegal wildlife trade on the site. For five months, the group's researchers monitored 14 Groups on Facebook in Malaysia, everyday, for a half hour a day. What did they find? Over 300 wild, live animals being sold as pets on the website. Nearly half the animals' species were protected or illegal to sell under Malaysian law.
In a statement to the BBC, Facebook said the company "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."
Some of the animals for sale included sun bears, a small and shy animal native to Southeast Asia that's listed as "vulnerable" by the Red List of Threatened Species. And the researchers also found binturongs, tree-dwellers that look like a mix between a bear and a cat and are also classified as "vulnerable".
In fact, while many of the animals found in the investigation aren't threatened at all, others aren't just vulnerable — they are endangered. For example, one seller offered up a white-handed gibbon, a cute creature that's dying off rapidly. Still other animals for sale are critically endangered, including a pair of yellow-crested cockatoos and a Burmese star tortoise.
The Facebook Groups involved are "Closed Groups", meaning approved membership is required to view messages. Traffic says that, during the investigation, the Groups had almost 68,000 active members with 106 identified unique sellers. (We reached out to Facebook to confirm that these Groups were suspended or not.)
According to Traffic, it's not unexpected that this would happen in Malaysia, because the country doesn't have legal marketplaces for exotic wildlife like much of Southeast Asia apparently does.
This kind of shady trade of rare animals on the internet isn't new, either. In 2014, a San Diego man was busted after trying to sell an endangered Asian arowana fish for $US2800 on Craigslist to an undercover cop. The man was fined $US1000. Two years before that, 12 people were arrested in Las Vegas for selling endangered birds and fish online. Craigslist openly prohibits the sale of "endangered, imperiled and/or protected species and any parts thereof, e.g. ivory."
Facebook told the BBC that it is "committed to working with Traffic to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia." Traffic had contacted Facebook, and said that the social media site is on board with cracking down on this kind of activity.
The environmentalist group also alerted Malaysian authorities — the country's Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 protects nearly half the species found in the report from hunting or trade of any kind. Meanwhile, 25 of the 69 species that weren't native to Malaysia are supposed to enjoy equal protection, too, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
While this particular study was restricted to Malaysia, Traffic is concerned that the problem could spread.
"We believe it reflects a worldwide problem," said Sarah Stoner, a data analyst at Traffic, in a press release. "Social media's ability to put traffickers in touch with many potential buyers quickly, cheaply and anonymously is of concern for threatened wildlife and enforcement agencies which demands nothing short of a concerted global response."
If you're reading this, and have ever thought about illegally purchasing a yellow-crested cockatoo on Facebook, don't be evil. Download a lock screen image of one instead.
All image credits: Traffic report