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Wildlife trafficking increases on Facebook despite ban

Social media platforms are being utilised by dealers in the wildlife trade to connect with potential buyers. Despite Facebook imposing a ban on animal trafficking, the practice has increased online.

Like many businesses that were forced to develop a stronger online market presence due to the global pandemic, dealers in the illegal exotic animal and animal product trade have taken to social media to make sales.

Ivory from the tusks of elephants, pangolin scales, and shark fins are just a few standouts in the long list of illegal animal products being bought and sold on Facebook.

Live, exotic animals can also be bought in the marketplace section or within private groups on the website which are, for the most part, sparsely regulated. The sale of exotic animals poses a huge threat to global biodiversity. In places where trafficking occurs regularly, species population levels are declining up to 60 percent.

It’s concerning to look at the figures. At least 4,000 cheetahs were trafficked over the last ten years on the platform, while only 7,000 cheetahs are known to exist in the wild.

Endangered animals such as tiger cubs, rare species of birds, bears, and monkeys are also frequently advertised as for sale on Facebook.

Unfortunately, many of these animals will undergo extreme stress and other health problems during the transport and sale process – surviving not more than a few months.

What about Facebook’s regulations?

Facebook has been unwavering in its mission to protect freedom of speech.

Due to the lack of government legislation which enforces a duty on social media companies to protect users through better censorship, the platform has become a breeding ground for illicit activity.

The website has been completely self-regulated for almost two decades, by an in-house team of content moderators who manually scan through posts to remove any that are harmful, abusive or exploitative.

Seeing as Facebook has already paid £52 million in compensation to its employees over their development of PTSD while working these roles, the amount of graphic content on the website is immeasurable.

Although it’s unfortunate, it is somewhat understandable that the moderation of dangerous human activity takes precedent over the illegal sale of wild animals.

However, organisations lobbying for governments to create stronger social media guidelines argue that any action considered to be a crime when made in person must also be treated as just as unlawful when it occurs online.

Their worry is that without legislation, Facebook will continue to absolve itself of any real responsibility for acting as a host for the sale of endangered wild animals and products from illegal poaching.

Why is the illegal animal trade a problem?

Besides the detriment to bio-diversity and natural population levels, and the fact that these animals don’t have a great (or long) life outside of their habitats, there is another important reason the sale of wild animals needs to stop.

In a highly lucrative illegal industry generating approximately £15 billion per year, there are no real parameters of health safety.

When animals are trafficked together in small cages, pathogens living inside one animal can easily jump to the another. This mixing process can result in the creation of complex, new diseases which – you guessed it – can later spill into the human population.

It’s no real comfort to know that amongst the millions of live animals imported into the USA and the UK annually, many come from parts of the world which are ‘hot zones’ for viruses.

Wildlife protectionists believe that social media companies will be subjected to further probing about their regulatory practices as awareness grows about online trafficking of endangered species.

As life slowly returns to normal, it will be interesting to see if traffickers return to their traditional methods of sale. If not, it’s more than likely that Facebook will have another legal inquiry on its hands.