In Malaysia, you can purchase a pet gibbon, otter, slow loris, or even a bear without ever leaving the comfort of your own home, thanks to the explosion of exotic animal trading groups on Facebook. The issue was highlighted recently in a new report by the global wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.
Over the course of five months, researchers from Traffic monitored fourteen Malaysian groups on Facebook for half an hour a day. During that time, they saw over 300 wild animals being sold as pets on the website, about half of which were protected species or otherwise illegal to sell under local laws.
Among the species for sale were sun bears — the smallest member of the bear family at “only” 4-5 feet long and 150 lbs, and a threatened species. Some of the other animals for sale, like white-handed gibbons, yellow-crested cockatoos, and Burmese star tortoises, are even listed as endangered or critically endangered.
While Facebook doesn’t allow the trade of endangered animals on its site, the tech giant has struggled to develop practical solutions to combat such activities. The groups involved are “closed,” meaning that only approved members are able to see posts or respond, although Traffic did find that a shocking 68,000 members were active in these groups. All in all, 106 of these were identified as unique sellers.
Because Malaysia does not have legal wildlife markets like many other nations in Southeast Asia, this is the first time researchers have been able to track the trade within the country. While this is mainly a Malaysian problem at the moment, many experts are concerned the practice of online trading could spread throughout the region. According to Traffic’s report, Facebook has been responsive to these concerns and is working with researchers to craft policies for cracking down on these groups in the future. It’s unclear whether the 14 groups monitored by Traffic have been suspended yet.