BANGKOK (AP) — A report from the World Wide Fund for Nature shows that illegal online wildlife purchases are on the rise in Myanmar, threatening both public health and endangered species.
The report released on Friday found that enforcement of prohibitions on such transactions weakened amid political unrest following a military coup in 2021.
The number of such transactions rose 74% from the previous year to 11,046, almost all of which involved live animal sales. Of the 173 species in trade, 54 are threatened with global extinction, according to the report.
The researchers identified 639 Facebook accounts belonging to wildlife traders. The largest e-commerce group had more than 19,000 members and dozens of posts a week, he said.
Animals and animal parts bought and sold included elephants, bears and gibbons, Tibetan antelope, critically endangered pangolins and an Asian giant tortoise. The most popular mammals were various species of langurs and monkeys, often purchased as pets.
Most of the animals advertised for sale have been taken from the wild. They also included civets, which, along with pangolins, have been identified as potential vectors for the spread of diseases such as SARS and COVID-19.
Shaun Martin, who heads WWF’s Asia-Pacific Regional Cybercrime Project, said monitoring of online wildlife trade shows that different species are kept close to each other, sometimes in the same cage.
“With Asia’s track record as a breeding ground for many recent zoonotic diseases, this surge in online wildlife trade in Myanmar is extremely concerning,” he said.
The unregulated wildlife trade and resulting wildlife-human interactions increase the risks of novel and possibly vaccine-resistant mutations of diseases such as COVID-19 that could evolve undetected in undetected hosts. humans to more dangerous variants of the disease, experts say.
COVID-19 is one of many diseases traced back to animals. The killing and sale of so-called bushmeat in Africa was considered a source of Ebola. Bird flu probably came from chickens in a Hong Kong market in 1997. Measles is thought to have evolved from a virus that infected cattle.
“The illegal wildlife trade is a serious concern from the perspective of the preservation and conservation of biodiversity and its potential impact on health security,” said disease and disease expert Mary Elizabeth G. Miranda zoonotics and CEO of the Field Epidemiology Training Program Alumni. Foundation in the Philippines.
Social media and other online platforms have joined a global effort to crack down on the burgeoning trade in birds, reptiles, mammals and animal parts. Much of the wildlife trade in Myanmar is done through Facebook, which, as a member of the Coalition to End Online Wildlife Trafficking, has taken action to block or delete people’s accounts. involved in such transactions.
But as is the case elsewhere, new accounts often appear as soon as old ones are shut down, hampering law enforcement, the report notes. Easy online access to animals is also increasing demand, compounding the problem.
Discussions of protected cash purchases have often taken place in open Facebook groups, suggesting that such transactions remain “largely risk-free”, according to the report. Since payments and deliveries are often made using messaging apps, it is doubly difficult to control the problem.
Highlighting the lack of law enforcement, those involved in the illegal wildlife trade in Myanmar often use rudimentary methods to move animals and animal products – buses being the usual mode of transport.
The WWF study in Myanmar focused on the online trade in animals and other creatures within the country, although there were some imports from neighboring Thailand, mainly of birds such only cockatoos and parrots and crocodiles, to India.
Some transactions could involve sending animals or parts to China, he said.
The conservation group said it plans future studies to better understand Myanmar’s role in the global trade in endangered species.