Facebook is marketplace for endangered species parts, from elephants, rhinos, tigers: report

Facebook has caught a lot of heat for allowing fake news into its streams, but a new report focuses on Facebook postings that are reportedly all too real.

The social media site has become an online marketplace for illegal sales of endangered species and parts of endangered species, according to a report by the Wildlife Justice Commission. The group had conducted an 18-month sting operation that included surreptitious visits to a Vietnamese wildlife-trading hub and combing through Facebook and Chinese messaging site WeChat.

Traders in endangered species “are primarily using Facebook to sell processed ivory products,” according to The Guardian, which saw an early copy of the wildlife commission’s report. Even whole elephant tusks have been sold on Facebook, along with paste made from tiger bones, and other parts from hundreds of rhinos, tigers and elephants, the newspaper said.

Vendors auction off parts from elephants, tigers, rhinos and other animals after attracting customers to closed Facebook groups, according to the paper. The vendors then use instant messaging to communicate with buyers, The Guardian said.

“Such Facebook groups are also allowing traders to meet a wide array of potential new buyers,” the article said. “Payment is usually done via WeChat Wallet.”

The report comes on the heels of a startling conclusion in October by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London that global wildlife populations plummeted by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, and that at this rate of loss, two-thirds of the world’s vertebrate populations will disappear by 2020.

And for the sale of endangered species, social media provides “a shopfront to the world,” Olivia Swaak-Goldman, executive director of the wildlife group, told The Guardian.

“It’s wildlife trafficking on an industrial scale.”

The group’s investigators found products from up to 907 dead elephants and 225 slain tigers, but what surprised them most was the volume of rhino parts.

“Investigators detailed rhino parts from 579 individual rhinos, nearly half of the total amount of rhinos killed in South Africa last year,” The Guardian reported.

And the numbers of killed animals catalogued by the group only represents what investigators actually found, Swaak-Goldman noted. “Can you imagine what the real number is?” said Swaak-Goldman. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

In the Vietnamese village of Nhi Khe, the reported wildlife-trading hub 13 miles south of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, bears, pangolins, hawksbill sea turtles and helmeted hornbills, or parts thereof, were sold, according to the group.

This is the second time this year that Facebook has been hit with allegations that it hosted trade in endangered species. In March, the group Traffic charged that Facebook was a leading tool for the sale of animals and parts by wildlife traders in Malaysia.

Traffic said it had found more than 300 individual animals from 80 species for sale on 14 different Facebook groups.

“Just half an hour’s daily monitoring over five months by Traffic researchers of 14 Facebook groups in Peninsular Malaysia found more than 300 apparently wild, live animals for sale as pets, ranging from sun bears  and gibbons, to otters,” Traffic said in a report.

Report co-author Kanitha Krishnasamy said social media “appears to have enabled the creation of a thriving marketplace for wild animals as pets where one previously didn’t exist in Malaysia.”

Facebook, according to The Guardian, told the Wildlife Justice Commission that it prohibited the sale and trade of endangered species on its platform and wouldn’t hesitate “to remove any content that violates our community standards when it is reported to us.”

Those community standards ban “the use of Facebook to facilitate or organize criminal activity that causes physical harm to people, businesses or animals.”


Photo: A Virunga National Park ranger watches elephants walk away in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Ethan Baron)


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