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Thursday, Nov. 30
The Indiana Daily Student


Internet trade poses serious risk to endangered species

The Internet has emerged as one of the greatest threats to rare species, fueling the illegal wildlife trade and making it easier to buy everything from live baby lions to wine made from tiger bones, conservationists said Sunday.

The Web’s impact was made clear at the meeting of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. Delegates voted overwhelmingly Sunday to ban the trade of the Kaiser’s spotted newt, which the World Wildlife Fund said has been devastated by the Internet trade.

A proposal from the United States and Sweden to regulate the trade in red and pink coral — which is crafted into expensive jewelry and sold extensively on the Web — was defeated, mostly over concerns the increased regulations might impact poor fishing communities.

“The Internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species,” said Paul Todd, a campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The IFAW has done several surveys of illegal trade on the Web and found thousands of species are sold on auction sites, classified ads and chat rooms, mostly in the United States but also Europe, China, Russia and Australia. Most of what is traded is illegal African ivory, but the group has also found exotic birds and rare products such as tiger-bone wine and pelts from protected species like polar bears and leopards.

A 2009 survey by the group Campaign Against the Cruelty to Animals targeted the Internet trade in Ecuador, finding offers to sell live capuchin monkeys, lion cubs and ocelots.

“As the Internet knows no borders, it causes several new problems regarding the enforcement of the protection of endangered species,” the group said in its report.

According to a study by the WWF, the newt is coveted in the pet trade. Numbering only around 1,000, about 200 annually are being traded over the years, mostly through a Ukranian Web site.

“The Internet itself isn’t the threat, but it’s another way to market the product,” said Ernie Cooper, who spearheaded the investigation into the newt for TRAFFIC Canada. “The Kaiser’s spotted newt, for example, is expensive and most people are not willing to pay $300 for a salamander. But through the power of the Internet, tapping into the global market, you can find buyers.”

The 32 species of red and pink coral are harvested in the Mediterranean and turned into expensive jewelry either in Italy or cheaper places like Taiwan and China, according to marine conservation group SeaWeb.

It is the most widely traded and valuable of all precious corals but has no international protection, resulting in a brisk international trade in the species, the group claims.

Opposition to the proposal was led by Japan, joined by several coastal states including Indonesia, Malaysia and Iceland, all arguing the corals are crucial to the survival of local communities and are not overharvested.

Meanwhile, delegates approved a voluntary conservation plan for endangered tigers that calls for tougher legislation in countries home to the big cats to tackle widespread smuggling and boost money spent on law enforcement.

The British plan also calls for countries to better control tiger farms and phase out traditional medicine markets which fuel demand for tiger parts.

Tiger numbers have plummeted because of human encroachment, the loss of nine-tenths of their habitat and poaching to supply the illegal trade. Their numbers have fallen from 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to around 3,600 today.

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