A New Study Reveals That Facebook Is The Main Site Of Choice For The Illegal Live Reptile Trade In The Philippines

According to a newly released study, Facebook is the dominating site for wildlife trafficking in the Philippines where membership in groups offering everything from Critically Endangered crocodiles to rare tortoises has been growing at rapid speed.

Conducted by monitoring network TRAFFIC, in just three months, the cumulative membership in the groups at the beginning of the survey in June 2016 stood at 359,328 but quickly increased by 11% by the end of August 2016.

Researchers recorded 2,245 unique live reptile advertisements representing 115 species and a staggering minimum of 5,082 individual animals posted in 90 Facebook groups.

As per the study, “Facebook is the platform of choice for illegal traders in the Philippines because of its popularity and insufficient internal monitoring enforcement.”

Most deals were closed via Facebook messenger, away from any prying eyes, making it difficult for effective monitoring of illicit online activity.

Further reflecting misguided signs of the time, the study also documented at least one case in which a trader used a ride-sharing service to deliver wildlife to a buyer.

“In only selected groups and in under a hundred days, we found thousands of individual reptiles in trade,” said Serene Chng, Programme Officer for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “This small snapshot reinforces how social media has taken over as the new epicenter of wildlife trade.”

Over half the species documented in the study are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and all species are protected under the Philippine Wildlife Act.

Native species including the endemic and critically endangered Philippine Crocodile and Philippine Forest Turtle, were offered for sale, although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) reported that it had never issued permits to collect reptiles for commercial use, making the trade in these animals illegal.

The study also found numerous non-native species offered for sale including Radiated Tortoise, Bengal Monitor Lizard, Black Spotted Turtle and Dumeril’s Boa. Both the CITES trade database and BMB records indicated there were no records of legal imports for these species.

A further eight CITES Appendix II species seen for sale online had no importation records since 1981, meaning they were very likely acquired and being traded illegally.

TRAFFIC’s regional spokeswoman Elizabeth John told the International Business Times, that Facebook was “seeking additional information in order to take action” and that the watchdog was helping it liaise with Philippine authorities.

Numerous arrests were made last year as a result of the findings of the study which prompted raids on suspected illegal traders in Manila and other cities.

Philippine customs authorities reportedly also intercepted packages with illegal wildlife destined for China, Sweden and the United States.

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