The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Illegal Wildlife Trade Thrives on Facebook, Internet Forums
By Ajit Niranjan
The lizards are frantic and the turtles plodding, but both scrabble to escape the perspex containers that hold them. The reptiles, some in small boxes and fetching prices of up to thousands of euros, are on sale at the Terraristika — Europe's largest reptile trade fair and a suspected wildlife-trafficking hub.
Thousands of enthusiasts descend on the German city of Hamm four times a year to buy exotic creatures ranging from coin-sized glass frogs to tarantulas and venomous snakes. In the wild, some of these animals are becoming dangerously scarce.
As well as the physical marketplace, the Terraristika is a center of a global online community of reptile traders and hobbyists. Customers browse animals on the web and collect them at the fair, sometimes on the unsupervised fringes of the event. Sellers arrange pickups via Facebook groups, owners share care tips on internet forums and YouTubers post videos of themselves "unboxing" animals bought at fairs.
The researchers found most adverts in internet forums, not social media, but they also saw closed Facebook groups with names suggesting they are used to trade reptiles.
Visitors to the Terraristika can buy all kinds of reptiles, including snakes.
DW also found endangered reptiles for sale in Facebook groups such as 'Terraristika Hamm — "MARKTPLATZ"' and 'Hamm and Houten Reptile Classifieds.'
Some of the species on offer are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an agreement signed by 183 countries that restricts trade in threatened wildlife. The animals were not necessarily poached — specimens of endangered species are often bred in captivity — but conservation groups fear that, because online trade is so difficult to regulate, endangered animals are being trafficked online.
In one group, a buyer complained that lizards he'd bought over Facebook didn't survive being delivered by post. "Pay me 1200 euro [sic]," he wrote in a private message to the seller accompanied by a laughing emoji, a screenshot of which he posted in the group. "You sent dead animals."
Hiding in Plain Sight
Facebook refused multiple requests for comment. Confronted with screenshots, a spokesperson from a PR firm acting on the company's behalf thanked DW for "sharing the examples of groups advertising endangered animals." Facebook then deleted the groups.
Facebook's commercial policy states that posts may not promote the sale of animals. It is a member of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, a partnership between internet companies and conservation groups, along with tech giants such as eBay, Baidu and Google.
But conservation groups fear the ease with which live animals can be bought on Facebook and other platforms has opened up the market for smugglers. Online wildlife trade is an "extreme problem" because it makes endangered animals available to "every normal person," said Katharina Lameter, a biologist at conservation group Pro Wildlife.
Some reptiles traded online are subject to bans or regulations under the CITES convention.
"That means anyone can advertise, there can be an incredible number of species on offer and anyone can buy these animals without ever having seen them. Often the animals are shipped off or picked up at reptile trade fairs," Lameter told DW.
Unlike drugs or weapons, wildlife is rarely traded on the darknet, a corner of the internet used to anonymously buy illegal goods — and what does appear there is mostly body parts such as elephant tusks, rhino horns and pangolin scales. Live animals are scarce, with traders preferring regular platforms that have access to bigger markets.
"Cybercrime is under the spotlight because the internet is an easy platform to place and to offer illegal goods anonymously … including wildlife," said Sergio Tirro, head of environmental crime analysis at Europol. "It's easy to hide the financial flow by using a prepaid card."
Legal loopholes also cause headaches for law enforcement trying to catch traffickers in the act. For instance, Germany is at the center of the illegal trade in Sri Lankan reptiles, according to an investigation published in April by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC.
More than half of Sri Lankan reptile species are threatened and the government has banned the export of almost all live reptiles. But they are not all protected internationally under CITES, meaning animals smuggled over in violation of Sri Lankan law can be freely traded in Europe.
Traffic found species "extremely vulnerable to overexploitation" being sold in Facebook groups and classified reptile forums. The number of online adverts offering endangered reptiles, including those endemic to Sri Lanka, rises in the run-up to the quarterly Terraristika fair.
Reptiles are popular pets and trade happens on and offline, like at this fair.
In the bustling warehouse where the Terraristika takes place, sellers eagerly describe their species' "exotic" origins — Sri Lanka, Mexico, Vietnam — but say the specimens they offer were bred in captivity in Europe, not smuggled from abroad.
But with deals taking place in nearby car parks, hotel bars and under tables at the fair itself, authorities struggle to police this. Styrofoam boxes of reptiles change hands off-site before the fair has even begun. Traders who arrange car park deals over the internet need not register a stall with the Terraristika organizers or submit themselves to checks in order to find buyers.
Terraristika did not respond to a request for comment. In a public statement in August responding to questions from German news agency dpa, Terraristika said it works with authorities to prevent illegal activities, but was not responsible if animals were misclassified with false documentation, just as an antiques market could not guarantee vendors wouldn't offer stolen goods.
Yet the internet and digital media are also being used in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking. Europol's Sergio Tirro said customs officers often take photos of suspicious specimens and send them immediately to experts to identify. Reptiles such as turtles can have minor physical differences between species that are endangered and not.
"You don't need to see the animal physically," said Tirro.
"When you have very precise pictures you can detect it. You don't need to travel all around the world to see if an animal belongs to a protected species."
And not all internet platforms are affected. DW did not find reptiles for sale on eBay, which said its open marketplace does not lend itself to trade in living creatures because every posting is completely public. Conservation groups confirmed this.
Ebay said it uses algorithms to search for suspicious keywords and alert human enforcers who can remove them. Some terms such as ivory are automatically banned by block filters, so sellers receive a warning message as soon as they try to post an advert with a banned word.
It's unclear if Facebook uses similar methods, but DW found several posts offering endangered species by typing the animals' Latin names into the Facebook search bar.
Conservation groups encourage tougher rules and stricter enforcement from internet platforms. But they caution that as one platform cracks down on wildlife trade, traders simply move to others that are less regulated.
"It would be best if online trade in live animals were completely banned," said Lameter from Pro Wildlife.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
'How Dare You Put Our Lives at Risk': Pennsylvania Democrat Brian Sims Rips GOP Members for 'Coverup' of Positive COVID-19 Tests
Brian Sims, a Democratic representative in the Pennsylvania legislature, ranted in a Facebook Live video that went viral about the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers who are pushing to reopen the state even though one of their members had a positive COVID-19 test.
- Partisan Differences in Social Distancing during the Coronavirus ... ›
- COVID-19 Is Turning Into a Partisan Battle, Too: The Politics Daily ... ›
- Coronavirus in US: Partisanship is the strongest predictor of public ... ›
- Pennsylvania Republicans Want Prosecutors To Investigate State ... ›
- Philly Democrat Brian Sims sparks firestorm after posting videos of ... ›
In another reversal of Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration is having the National Park Service rescind a 2015 order that protected bears and wolves within protected lands.
- Wildlife Advocates Celebrate: Romania Bans Trophy Hunting ... ›
- Father and Son Charged With Killing Mother Bear and 'Shrieking ... ›
- Trump Admin. Wants to Reinstate 'Cruel' Hunting Tactics in Alaska ... ›
By Linda Lacina
World Health Organization officials today announced the launch of the WHO Foundation, a legally separate body that will help expand the agency's donor base and allow it to take donations from the general public.
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1265660879669886976" id="twitter-embed-1265660879669886976" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1265660879669886976&created_ts=1590592043.0&screen_name=WHO&text=Media+briefing+on+%23COVID19+with+%40DrTedros+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2Fj5ZoeBdBvO&id=1265660879669886976&name=World+Health+Organization+%28WHO%29" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="16f209220db97fa1572877a1700956f5"></iframe>
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
By Nicholas Joyce
The coronavirus has resulted in stress, anxiety and fear – symptoms that might motivate a person to see a therapist. Because of social distancing, however, in-person sessions are less possible. For many, this has raised the prospect of online therapy. For clients in need of warmth and reassurance, could this work? Studies and my experience suggests it does.
Telehealth Versus Traditional Therapy<p><a href="https://www.cigna.com/hcpemails/telehealth/telehealth-flyer.pdf" target="_blank">Private insurance companies</a> like Cigna and Aetna, have come around; they now provide coverage for what they see as a "legitimate" service. And <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-wells-2019-consumer-survey-finds-majority-of-consumers-open-to-telehealth-adoption-continues-to-grow-300906438.html" target="_blank">surveys show</a> consumers are receptive to telehealth counseling: no driving to an appointment, no searching for a parking space, no worries about childcare while they're away, no need to switch providers if they move, and no problem if the specialist happens to be far away.</p><p>Online therapy opens doors for clients who wouldn't otherwise seek help, <a href="https://www.worldcat.org/title/empirical-examination-of-the-influence-of-personality-gender-role-conflict-and-self-stigma-on-attitudes-and-intentions-to-seek-online-counseling-in-college-students/oclc/941976505" target="_blank">particularly patients</a> who feel stigmatized by therapy or intimidated by a stranger sitting across the room from them. Often, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1089/1094931041291295" target="_blank">people open up</a> more easily in telehealth sessions. Firsthand accounts have detailed <a href="https://www.romper.com/p/i-tried-online-therapy-for-a-month-this-is-what-happened-13630" target="_blank">positive experiences from consumers</a>.</p>
Overcoming Prejudices About Online Counseling<p>Now COVID-19 is forcing most traditional psychotherapists to adapt their practice to <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/202003/covid-19-etherapy-in-times-isolation" target="_blank">online counseling</a>. After experiencing the medium, they are <a href="https://www.wecounsel.com/blog/why-every-therapist-in-private-practice-needs-a-telehealth-option/" target="_blank">overcoming their prejudices</a>. Many will convert some or all of their caseloads to telehealth after the pandemic ends. Most of our clients seem to be good with it: responding to a satisfaction survey, 85% of USF students strongly or somewhat agreed their telehealth experience was comparable to an in-person visit.</p><p>All this allows a continuity of care for clients that before was impossible; there is, however, a caveat. Because of the coronavirus, some of my clients at USF who live out-of-state have moved back home. That means, legally, I can no longer serve them. Even though they are still USF students, my license is valid only in Florida.</p><p>For telehealth to work effectively, our national system of licensing and regulation law needs to adapt. Although the federal government temporarily halted HIPAA regulations to promote telehealth during this time, not all states are allowing out-of-state practice. The coronavirus may not be here forever, but spring break and Christmas holidays always will. We need seamless telehealth across state lines.</p>
- How to Deal With Cabin Fever - EcoWatch ›
- 75,000 American Deaths Predicted From Overdose and Suicide ... ›
As many parts of the planet continue to open their doors after pandemic closures, a new pest is expected to make its way into the world. After spending more than a decade underground, millions of cicadas are expected to emerge in regions of the southeastern U.S.