Earlier this year, nearly 200 nations convened for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha, Qatar, and the Internet's role in the rapid growth of illegal wildlife trade was a hot topic.
The Independent reports that illegal wildlife trading is gaining popularity on the Internet due to the ease with which poachers are able to find customers willing to pay premium prices, and though wildlife law enforcement has made significant advances elsewhere, the Internet provides a challenging new scope due to its largely unregulated nature.
Though the Internet isn't specifically condemned for the decline in rare and exotic animal populations, it acts as a neutral tool to facilitate global trade and expedite the search for desired markets, as with any area of commerce.
Greenfudge.org reports that over 7,000 species were sold on auction sites, classified ads and chat rooms in 2008, according to International Fund for Animal Welfare surveys. The $3.8 million in online transactions consisted mostly of African ivory, exotic birds, pelts from protected species, and rare products like tiger bone wine.
Head of the CITES team at London Heathrow Airport, Charles Mackay, told the BBC, "The internet is a huge communication tool, it's very easy. In the past it was a lot more difficult, so it's made networks a lot bigger."
Here are just 7 of the many species threatened by illegal wildlife trading:
Only found in four streams of Iran's Zagros Mountains, Kaiser's spotted newt is a rare salamander believed to be among the first species being driven to extinction from internet trade. While poachers may not find a local market readily willing to pay high prices for the creature, turning to the internet has yielded much larger interests prepared to hand over around $300 for each newt. The Independent reports that the demand has reduced the population by 80% between 2001 and 2005, with less than 1,000 mature newts estimated to remain.
Red and pink coral has long been carved and polished into jewelry and decorative sculptures. With the advent of the internet trade, the market for coral jewelry has only increased, threatening a species already endangered by everything from destructive bottom-trawling fishing to pollution and global warming. BBC reports that the US and Sweden introduced a proposal to ban the trade in red and pink coral, but CITES' delegates defeated it mostly out of concern for the effect it would have on poor fishing communities.
Elephants are disappearing at an alarming rate, poached for their revered ivory. Late last year, the Telegraph reported that at the rate Elephants were being illegally hunted, they could become entirely extinct within 15 years. According to The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the worldwide population of 600,000 elephants is diminishing by 38,000 a year.
As recently as 100 years ago an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed Asia. But due to poaching, human development and other environmental changes, there are estimated to be less than 3,000 tigers remaining in the wild, according to the AP. Tigers are hunted for a variety of resources, including their teeth, claws, pelts, and even their bones, which are used to make a highly-valued wine considered to have traditional medicinal properties in Asia. Myanmar recently increase the size of their tiger reserve, the world's largest, to 8,450 square miles in an effort to help save the species.
Many exotic animals are illegally sought after to be kept as pets. Wealthy people often seek them out as a status symbol, though special requirements they may need are often neglected and the animals are needlessly harmed as a result. The Star reports that capuchin monkeys are a species particularly popular as of late for this particular reason.
Ocelots are another exotic species known to be kept as house pets, though Mongabay.com reports that Amazon populations are also sought after for their pelts, along with jaguars and other animals of the jungle.
Polar bears are not only threatened by climate change, but are also hunted for their pelts, according to Newser.com.