The Amazon rainforest is being plundered on Facebook. It has emerged that an increasing number of traders are selling rare animal and plant species, including the Brazil nut tree, for medicinal purposes via the social media site. This has led to fears that this could be a new way to attract customers who may not have been able to afford such items before.
The sale of cacti, scorpions, and other arthropods insects, crustaceans, and arachnids are also rampant on Facebook. A report by the Brazilian NGO Aliança da Terra stated that at least 62 species used in traditional medicine are available for purchase on the site. That is only about half of the total number of species that can be found there. The report revealed
594 posts and pages that sell medicinal plants using euphemisms such as a useful gift or succulent· 63 posts and pages managed by indigenous communities for their sales· 724 posts and pages that sell animals or animal parts, including amphibians, birds, butterflies
These findings are part of the first investigation into wildlife trafficking on Facebook in Brazil. The report was published at a press conference held by Aliança da Terra in Brasília on 21 January. It is estimated that there are 10,000 to 15,000 sellers offering wildlife on Facebook in Brazil.
The study found that the amount of wildlife being sold on the social network is growing constantly and that there were auctions for condors, ocelots, tapirs, jaguars, toucans, and even lions. These are all threatened species, says Júlio César Bicocca, one of the authors. Most are kept illegally as pets or are smuggled into the country from other parts of Latin America, according to Kleber Mendoça Filho, another author.
The trade began to evolve in 2009 with indirect sales via closed social networks such as Orkut and Facebook, says Rafael Salazar from the Mamiraua Institute, a Brazilian conservation group that coordinates the National Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Strategy. In 2012, things changed considerably with direct sales through Facebook. We observed a significant growth in wildlife trafficking during this period, he adds.
The report also warns of an increase in illegal exports to Asia and Europe fuelled by new exotic animal farms in Brazil. Some of this is done through legal routes, but much is illegal. It’s a problem for conservation because it encourages the hunting of endangered species to supply these farms, says Salazar.
This includes the country’s 12 jaguar founts, which are being decimated by hunters, and the current boom in demand for wildlife. They are at risk because many of them live near roads and hunters use vehicles to transport their catch, says Rene Moraes, a biologist from Aliança da Terra.