I love the Internet. I admit it. I can find an apartment on Craigslist, rent a movie on Netflix and dream about meeting the perfect man on Match.com. I can even track down a replacement part for my near extinct refrigerator. Forget about letting your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages. Mine would much rather dance across the keyboard to find what I’m hankering for these days.
Which makes me wonder. What else can be found on the Internet? Endangered species and products, perhaps.
African ivory, rare birds, leopard and polar bear pelts, even tiger-bone wine can be had with a click. Would you like some hawksbill turtle shells to decorate your home? Or, how about a nice shahtoosh shawls from an endangered Tibetan antelope to keep you warm? What’s that? You’re looking for something living and breathing to cuddle up next to? No problem. Online ads can be found for baby lions, tigers, leopard cubs, crocodiles, an ocelot and a bonobo. That’s still not quite what you’re after? Then how about settling for a chimp, a marmoset or an adorable capuchin monkey?
Wait a minute! How can this be possible? Isn’t all that stuff illegal?
Uh huh. No matter. You’re talking the Internet, baby. It’s as if the genie has been released from his bottle and can now grant your heart’s desire. The result is that the Internet has become one of the greatest threats to rare species. Cyberspace is helping to fuel the illegal wildlife trade through opening up new markets and globalization.
The International Fund for Animals (IFAW) conducted a three-month survey in 2008 and discovered that more than 7,000 species worth $3.8 million were being sold on auction sites, classified ads and chat rooms. Most were in the U.S. while many were in Europe, China, Russia and Australia. How does it work? That’s the beauty of it. Say I offer to sell a Siberian tiger online. You call me, we talk and no one will be the wiser. The Internet offers unscrupulous dealers and sophisticated smuggling rings exactly what they want—anonymity. What better haven in which to carry on a nefarious trade?
“The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world’s rarest animals is being traded away,” declared Phyllis Campbell-McRae, Director of IFAW UK.
No kidding. Thousands of endangered animals and animal parts are regularly offered for sale online. The latest example is the Kaiser’s spotted newt, a rare salamander found only in four streams in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Wouldn’t you know? I’d never even heard of it before now and it’s already one of the first species being driven to extinction by the Internet. Apparently, people in the pet trade are really hot for these little critters. So much so that demand has reduced their population by eighty percent. Less than 1,000 mature newts now remain in the wild.
Here’s the top seven species endangered by the Internet trade according to the Huffington Post:
1. Kaiser’s Spotted Newt – You already know about this one. How much is that little spotted newt on your monitor screen going for? They’re a bargain at $300.
2. Red & Pink Coral – Think about it. Your jewelry isn’t pretty enough to justify wiping out entire coral reefs.
3. Elephants – Yes, they’re still being illegally hunted for their ivory. According to IFAW, the worldwide population of 600,000 elephants is diminishing by 38,000 a year. Hey, ivory figurines are just something else to dust.
4. Tigers – 100,000 tigers roamed Asia as recently as 100 years ago. Now there are estimated to be less than 3,000 tigers remaining in the wild. Tiger-bone wine is not going to improve your rheumatism or arthritis.
5. Capuchin Monkeys – Viewed as status symbols and/or substitute children. How about adopting a cat or dog?
6. Ocelots – Still one more exotic house pet. They belong in the wild, not in your home.
7. Polar bears – Don’t they already have enough trouble just dealing with climate change?
Below is a photo of the Kaiser’s spotted newt, courtesy of Dr. Richard Bartlett.