Our exotic pets for sale
The internet has become a haven for sales of exotic pets and animal products, many of them illegal and made from endangered species, a study released this week has found.
Between November 2004 and January 2005, International Fund for Animal Welfare found thousands of endangered animals and animal products available for purchase over the internet, including a live Siberian tiger for $70, 000, a lion, peregrine falcons and many medicines made from leopard, tiger, rhino and elephant parts.
During a one-week period in January, the study found more than 9, 000 live wild animals and animal products and specimens for sale, predominantly from species under legal protection. The animals and products were offered on animal-trading websites, in chat rooms and on auction sites like eBay.
The sale of endangered animals and products gives poachers an incentive to keep hunting them and increase the trade in exotic pets, according to the report.
"This has been a problem for a long time but it's becoming worse because of the internet opening up new markets and globalization, " IFAW spokesman Chris Cutter said.
Cutter pointed to several sites allegedly selling endangered animals protected by international law.
Visitors to the site are greeted by a photo of a young monkey dressed in baby's clothing and highlighted by animated sparkles. The theme from The Monkees plays in the background. The site shows many more monkeys in various baby outfits, including frilly dresses and fuzzy-looking onesies.
The Rainbow Primates site doesn't sell any endangered animals, said employee David Davis, and he doesn't think any private citizen should own a great ape, gorilla or chimpanzee. Davis said the site's photos are about 3 years old.
"But a monkey, such as a capuchin, that does everything for paralyzed people, you know … they do make good pets, " he said. "But you've got to always remember they're a wild animal."
In regards to whether or not people should own exotic pets, Davis said: "I think people have a right of choice, you know? This is free America, is that correct?"
IFAW's Cutter said people who buy exotic animals may have good intentions, but are doing the creatures more harm than good.
Cutter said raising tigers in a backyard isn't going to help tigers in the wild, since they're not going to be re-released.
"On one hand these people love animals and they're trying to protect them, I guess you would say, but it's a really naive way of going about conservation, " he said.
Other sites pointed out by Cutter for selling exotic animals include Schreiner Farms and Awesome Exotic's (sic). Nobody could be reached at Schreiner Farms, and an Awesome Exotic's employee would not comment.
In efforts to stanch the growth of such trade, the IFAW is working with international policing groups like Interpol to improve related law enforcement and data collection. The group is trying to toughen up laws regarding exotic pets in the United States, and is hoping to persuade the Department of Agriculture to beef up enforcement of live-animal laws. The group is also working with sites like eBay to cut down illegal online trade.
EBay has been helpful, Cutter said, though he added, "even if eBay were perfect, it would still be a problem."
EBay spokesman Chris Donlay said illegal animal product sales are not a big problem for the auction site. EBay doesn't allow trading of live animals, but it does permit sales of legal taxidermy animals and animal parts, he said.
Donlay said the company doesn't release data regarding auctions that are stopped because of illegal activity, and confirmed that the company has been brainstorming with IFAW. He said eBay is working to keep its wildlife policy up to snuff.
Not all sales of endangered animals and animal products are illegal — an ivory statue or leopard coat, for example, can be sold legally if it was made before laws were passed banning such items.
Many animals that are endangered in the wild can still be legally sold domestically, depending on the type of animal and laws in the buyer's and seller's states.
Live endangered animals and endangered animal parts or products sold internationally are subject to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora agreement, which works to ensure the vitality of plant and animal species traded around the world.