- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

DOHA, Qatar | The Internet has emerged as one of the greatest threats to rare species, fueling the illegal wildlife trade and making it easier to buy everything from live baby lions to wine made from tiger bones, conservationists and law enforcement officers said Sunday.

The Web’s impact was made clear at the meeting of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. Delegates voted overwhelmingly Sunday to ban the trade of the Kaiser’s spotted newt, which the World Wildlife Fund says has been devastated by the Internet trade.

A proposal from the United States and Sweden to regulate the trade in red and pink coral — which is crafted into expensive jewelry and sold extensively on the Web — was defeated. Delegates voted the idea down, mostly over concerns the increased regulations might impact poor fishing communities.

Trade on the Web poses “one of the biggest challenges facing CITES,” said Paul Todd, a campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“The Internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species,” he said.

The IFAW has done several surveys of illegal trade on the Web and a three-month survey in 2008 found more than 7,000 species worth $3.8 million sold on auction sites, classified ads and chat rooms, mostly in the United States, but also in Europe, China, Russia and Australia. Most of what is traded is illegal African ivory, but the group has also found exotic birds, along with rare products, such as tiger-bone wine and pelts from protected species, such as polar bears and leopards.

A separate 2009 survey by the group Campaign Against the Cruelty to Animals targeted the Internet trade in Ecuador, finding offers to sell live capuchin monkeys, lion cubs and ocelots.

John Sellar, CITES’ chief law-enforcement officer, argued the impact of the Web was overblown and that trade in many species that appear illegal may in fact may be legal. He also said many big traders were reluctant to use the Internet, since payments can be traced, and they can be ensnared in undercover operations.

Still, a CITES committee endorsed an e-commerce proposal Sunday that calls on governments to draft measures to address the Internet trade and law-enforcement agencies to dedicate a unit to focus on it.

The private sector has also moved to limit the illegal trade.

EBay, which was singled out in the IFAW survey as being a main source of much of the ivory sales, said in a statement that it instituted a complete ban on the ivory trade in 2008, which activists said has helped slow the trade in tusks on the Web.

The newt is a textbook example of what can happen to one species through trade on the Web. According to a study by the WWF, the black and brown salamander with white spots is coveted in the pet trade. They number only around 1,000, and live in Iran’s Zagros Mountains. About 200 have been traded annually over the years, mostly through a Web site operated out of Ukraine. Their population has fallen 80 percent.

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