Surge in ads selling illegal wildlife

Surge in ads selling illegal wildlife
Asian leopard cat.
PHOTO: Acres Animal Crime Investigation Unit

Looking for an exotic pet?

"Healthy Tiger Cubs and Cheetahs Available", read one of the advertisements posted online last week.

The advertisement was taken down after it got the attention of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) Animal Crime Investigation Unit.

It is just one of many online ads selling endangered and exotic animals like pygmy marmoset monkeys, sugar gliders, aldabra tortoise and ball pythons, among others.

To stop the illegal pet trade online, Acres conducted an undercover operation from June to Dec 15.

Acres wanted to investigate the use of online advertising platforms by wildlife traffickers. Such advertisements are illegal.

They found 156 illegal pet advertisements online over the six months.

To verify the authenticity of the advertisers, they contacted 17 sellers, of which 14 proved to be selling endangered species.

Three sellers did not respond.

They also staked out dealings made with illegal pet advertisers. The joint sting operations with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) resulted in the seizure of animals such as sugar gliders and an Asian leopard cat.

On average, the Asian leopard cat is similar in overall size and shape to the domestic cat, but can grow up to 56cm in length, with a 27cm-long tail.

Acres released the results of their investigation yesterday.

SURVEILLANCE

One of the undercover volunteer investigators told The New Paper: "As I had no experience in investigative work, I was given a simple assignment. It was straightforward surveillance in a case of alleged animal cruelty."

Sarah, not her real name, declined to disclose any of her recent experiences as it could lead to some sellers realising that she is not a real buyer.

One of her first stings involved a long-tailed macaque. Acres was tipped off about a household that was keeping the animal in their two-storey landed home.

Sarah said: "They had a very huge porch and a large garden but the macaque was kept in a steel cage about 1.5m in height.

"We went down as a team and saw the animal in the cage through gaps in the wall. We then called AVA, who took it away."

The owners claimed the monkey was abandoned.

But Sarah said: "(Macaque) mothers are usually very protective of them so it's unlikely that it would be abandoned.

"It also hurt me to see the macaque pacing back and forth in its cage. Even though it was a reasonable weight and size and appeared to be well-fed, there was no space for it.

"In their natural habitat, they would be in their troupes swinging from tree to tree."

Recalling one experience during the investigation into online ads, Sarah said: "We asked one of the sellers 'Hey what about a slow loris? Is that for sale?' as they are one of the most endangered species.

"At first they said there was no stock but a few days later they contacted us saying their hunters found a group of them in the forest and if we placed an order now they would go get it for us.

"Does this mean that every time we click on an ad and place an order they are going to trap animals in the forest? So who is the one pressing the trigger? Is it the buyer, the middleman who is the seller, or the hunter?"


This article was first published on December 22, 2015.
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