Kuala Lumpur, March 3: The illegal trade in iconic and threatened animal species in Asia is growing unabated on social media platforms like Facebook, a leading wildlife trade monitoring network claimed on Thursday.
"The rise of 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," said Kanitha Krishnasamy, programme manager for TRAFFIC -- a non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants, in a statement posted on its website.
Founded in 1976, TRAFFIC is a joint programme of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The network's report titled "Trading Faces: A Rapid Assessment on the use of Facebook to Trade Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia" has been released to coincide with World Wildlife Day that falls on March 3.
The report is based on five months of monitoring by TRAFFIC researchers of 14 Facebook groups in Malaysia.
The researchers found more than 300 apparently wild, live animals for sale as pets, ranging from sun bears and gibbons, to otters and even binturong, also known as bearcat.
More than 60 percent of the 80 species recorded during the monitoring were native to Malaysia and almost half of the species recorded were totally protected from hunting or trade.
"Twenty five of the 69 non-native species for sale, including the Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea from Indonesia and the Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora from Madagascar, were protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora," the report said.
Most of the 14 Facebooks groups were "closed groups", requiring membership to view and trade online. At the time of monitoring, the groups boasted close to 68,000 active members.
Facebook responded positively when the research results were shared with the social networking site.
"We are committed to working with TRAFFIC to help tackle the illegal online trade of wildlife in Malaysia. Facebook 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," a Facebook spokesperson was quoted as saying.
"Although the findings are about illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem," said Sarah Stoner, a senior crime data analyst with TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.
"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," she said.