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Illegal online wildlife trade on rise in Myanmar, WWF finds

A REPORT by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows illegal purchases of wildlife online are growing in Myanmar in a threat both to public health and endangered species.

The report issued today found that enforcement of bans on such transactions has weakened amid political turmoil following a 2021 military coup.

The number of such deals rose 74 per cent over a year earlier to 11,046, nearly all of them involving sales of live animals. For the 173 species traded, 54 are threatened with global extinction, the report said.

Researchers identified 639 Facebook accounts belonging to wildlife traders. The largest online trading group had more than 19,000 members and dozens of posts per week, it said.

The animals and animal parts bought and sold involved elephants, bears and gibbons, Tibetan antelope, critically endangered pangolins and an Asian giant tortoise. The most popular mammals were various species of langurs and monkeys, often bought as pets.

Most animals advertised for sale were taken from the wild. They also included civets, which along with pangolins have been identified as potential vectors in the spread of diseases such as SARS and Covid-19.

Social media and other online platforms have joined a worldwide effort to crack down on the thriving trade in birds, reptiles, mammals and animal parts. In Myanmar, much of the trade in wildlife is through Facebook, which as a member of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking online has taken action to block or remove accounts of people engaged in such transactions.

But as is true elsewhere, new accounts often pop up just as soon as old ones are shut down, hindering enforcement, the report noted. Easy online access to the animals also is driving up demand, worsening the problem.

Discussions of purchases of protected species often took place in open Facebook groups, suggesting that such dealings remain “largely risk-free,” the report said. Since payments and deliveries are often done using messenger apps, controlling the problem is doubly difficult.

Highlighting a lack of enforcement, people in the illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar often use rudimentary methods of moving the animals and animal products around — with buses being the usual form of transport.

The study by WWF in Myanmar focused on trade online of animals and other creatures inside the country, though there were some imports from neighbouring Thailand, mainly of birds such as cockatoos, parrots, and crocodiles from India.

Some deals might involve animals or parts being sent into China, it said.

The conservation group said it plans future studies to better understand Myanmar’s role in the global trade in endangered species.

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