Wildlife traffickers setting up fake zoos on Facebook to sell endangered pangolin scales

By June 30, 2020Anti-poaching
Matilda Coleman, UpNewsInfo | June 25, 2020

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Wildlife traffickers are openly marketing critically endangered pangolins and their scales on Facebook, setting up profiles for fake petting zoos that direct prospective purchasers to personal WhatsApp numbers exactly where specials are created.

In an investigation published Wednesday, the Tech Transparency Undertaking identified half a dozen public posts marketing pangolin scales only by seeking for the title of the animal written in Vietnamese. Several of the pages presented pangolin scales, which are utilised in conventional Chinese medication.

The Tech Transparency Undertaking is a exploration initiative by the Campaign for Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization.

“The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal,” the Tech Transparency Project’s executive director, Daniel Stevens, advised Information. “And it’s still easy to find these animals to buy on Facebook.”

Two of the pages identified by the Tech Transparency Report had been taken down by Facebook following Information contacted the platform for comment.

Facebook explained it isn’t going to tolerate the unlawful trading of endangered wildlife and their components on our platforms and will consider down pages or occasions and linked accounts when they are identified to violate these policies. The site’s moderators use a blend of technologies, reviews from NGO partners, reviews from our neighborhood, and human critique to detect and take away violating information.

“We prohibit the trading of endangered wildlife or their components,” a spokesperson for Facebook told News. “It can be unlawful, it can be incorrect, and we have teams devoted to stopping exercise like this.”

The principal way traffickers promote pangolins on Facebook is by generating fake listings for zoos. On 3 pages viewed by Information, the moderator had listed the profile as a zoo or animal rescue services, even although the pages had titles like “Pangolin Scales for Sale in Vietnam” and “Rhino Horns and Pangolin scales for sale in China.” Several of the pages also direct prospective purchasers towards WhatsApp numbers.

“We discretely hunt and sell Rhino Horn and pangolin scales contact us for more information on purchase, WhatsApp me,” 1 web page go through.

Sarah Uhlemann, global system director and senior lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, advised Information she wasn’t stunned that the Tech Transparency Project’s researchers had been ready to discover pangolins on Facebook. Uhlemann explained she was ready to discover on the net vendors the identical way that the Tech Transparency Undertaking group did: by googling the word “pangolin” in simplified Mandarin.

“It’s not that tough to discover,” she explained. “I would say that the Vietnamese link is not surprising to me.”

Uhlemann explained that the Vietnamese Facebook customers marketing pangolin scales are almost certainly linked to a greater network that traffics African pangolins from nations like Nigeria to Vietnam and then into China. “We’re seeing a lot of scales coming out of Nigeria and usually shipped with ivory,” she explained. In accordance to Uhlemann, the pangolin scales are commonly powdered, mixed with other Chinese herbal medicines, and then offered in a mixture that can be consumed in a pill it is touted for a range of utilizes, such as lactation, skin illness, and palsy.

And demand for pangolins has not diminished regardless of the animal’s population getting decimated in China and are labeled as endangered or critically endangered about the globe. In accordance to an April report from the United Nations Workplace on Medication and Crime, seizures of illegally hunted pangolins from Africa and meant for Asian markets have elevated tenfold because 2014.

“One operation last April seized 25 tons of African pangolin scales — representing an estimated 50,000 dead pangolins — with a market value of some $7 million,” the UN office’s executive director, Ghada Waly, explained in the report. “Between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally.”

The Tech Transparency Undertaking identified a different pangolin trafficker who designed a Facebook occasion web page in South Africa. The occasion, which was viewed by Information, was titled, “Sandawana and Pangolin Animals on Sale Worls [sic] Broad.” The occasion incorporated a WhatsApp quantity and advertised a “love spell using Pangolin oil.”

Simply because pangolin trafficking pages are directing prospective customers to encrypted WhatsApp channels, it is tough to estimate the dimension of these operations. The most well-liked of these pages had 336 followers as of Wednesday. The Tech Transparency Undertaking also identified a nevertheless-lively public submit that advertised pangolin shells, which a Vietnamese herbal medication retailer published final June. It had 100 feedback from interested purchasers.

In accordance to Richard Thomas, a spokesperson for Website traffic, a nongovernmental organization that tracks the international trade of wild animals, Facebook is not the most prevalent way to website traffic pangolins, but it can be utilised to promote the animals’ scales.

“Most pangolin trafficking tends to be large shipments of scales, mainly moving between Africa and Asia,” Thomas advised Information. “Social media platforms aren’t a common means used for pangolin trafficking, but if someone has got a pangolin or pangolin parts for sale, it might be one of the ways they use to advertise that.”

Facebook is an lively member of the Coalition to Finish Wildlife Trafficking On the net, which brings with each other organizations from across the globe in partnership with wildlife groups like Website traffic, the Planet Broad Fund for Nature, and the Worldwide Fund for Animal Welfare. Coalition members have eliminated or blocked above three million listings for endangered and threatened species and linked merchandise from their on the net platforms.

Nonetheless, in a secret complaint filed in 2018 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a group of wildlife advocates accused the platform of serving commercials on pages marketing physique components of endangered animals, such as elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger teeth.

A single of the largest debates in the globe proper now — which animal the novel coronavirus originated from — also occurs to implicate pangolins.

COVID-19, the illness induced by the novel coronavirus, is imagined to be zoonotic, originating in animals and jumping to people. COVID-19’s genetic similarity to RaTG13, a virus identified in 2013 in bats in China’s Yunnan province, has led numerous scientists to recommend COVID-19 commenced in bats and passed to an intermediary animal prior to infecting people. What can make the scaly animals an intermediary suspect is the similarity in between proteins in a coronavirus identified in Malayan pangolins’ lungs and the proteins in COVID-19

Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University and host of the podcast This Week in Virology, advised Information he doubted pangolins had been the host.

“These viruses originated in bats. How they got into people, we don’t know,” he explained. “The remaining question is how it got to people, but that will require more wildlife sampling.”

Prior to delving into pangolin trafficking, the Tech Transparency Undertaking published a report final month exposing personal Facebook Groups belonging to risky extremists who had been working with anti–coronavirus lockdown protests to recruit new members.

“Our goal here is to show how big of a problem this is,” Stevens explained. “It’s really only public shaming that will make a difference to them.”