WWF report says online wildlife trade is on the rise in Myanmar

Written by Eileen Kortenbach, Business Writer at AP

Bangkok (AFP) – Illegal online purchases of wildlife are increasing in Myanmar, threatening public health and endangered species, a report by the World Wildlife Fund shows.

The report released Friday found that enforcement of the ban on such transactions has weakened amid political turmoil after the military coup in 2021.

The number of such transactions increased 74% from the previous year to 11,046, most of them related to the sale of live animals. Of the 173 species in circulation, 54 are globally threatened, the report said.

The researchers identified 639 Facebook accounts belonging to wildlife traders. It added that the largest online trading group has more than 19,000 members and dozens of posts per week.

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Among the animals bought and sold were elephants, bears, gibbons, Tibetan antelopes, endangered pangolins and an Asian giant tortoise. The most common were different types of monkeys, and they were often bought as pets.

Most of the animals advertised for sale were taken from the wild. It also included the civet, which along with pangolins have been identified as potential vectors for the spread of diseases such as SARS and COVID-19.

Sean Martin, who heads the WWF’s Asia Pacific Regional Cybercrime Project, said monitoring the wildlife trade online shows that different species were close to each other, sometimes in the same cage.

“With Asia’s record as a breeding ground for many modern zoonoses, this sharp rise in online trade of wildlife in Myanmar is deeply concerning,” he said.

Unregulated trade in wild species and the resulting interactions between wild species and humans raise the risks of new and possibly vaccine-resistant mutations for diseases like COVID-19 that could evolve undetected in non-human hosts into more dangerous variants of the disease, according to experts say.

COVID-19 is one of many diseases that trace back to animals. The killing and selling of so-called bushmeat in Africa was thought to be a source of Ebola. Bird flu likely came from chickens at a market in Hong Kong in 1997. Measles is believed to have evolved from a virus that infected livestock.

“Illegal wildlife trade is a major concern from a biodiversity conservation and conservation standpoint and its potential impact on health security,” said Mary Elizabeth Miranda, an expert in diseases and zoonoses and executive director of the Graduate Field Training Program in Epidemiology. Foundation in the Philippines.

Social media and other online platforms have joined forces in a global effort to eradicate the booming trade in birds, reptiles, mammals and animal parts. In Myanmar, most wildlife trade is done through Facebook, which as a member of the Coalition to End Online Wildlife Trade has taken measures to ban or remove the accounts of people involved in such transactions.

But as in other places, new accounts often appear once old accounts are closed, which hampers implementation, the report noted. Easy online access to animals also increases demand, which exacerbates the problem.

Discussions of buying protected species often take place in open groups on Facebook, the report said, indicating that such transactions remain “largely risk-free”. Since payments and deliveries are often done using messaging apps, controlling the issue is very difficult.

To highlight the lack of enforcement, people in the illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar often use primitive methods of transporting animals and animal products – with buses being the usual form of transport.

The study by WWF in Myanmar focused on the online trade of animals and other creatures within the country, although there were some imports from neighboring Thailand, especially birds such as hornbills and crested salmon, and crocodiles, to India.

She added that some of the deals may include animals or parts being sent to China.

The conservation group said it was planning future studies to better understand Myanmar’s role in the global trade of the endangered species.

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