Wildlife Traffickers Setting Up Fake Zoos On Facebook To Sell Endangered Pangolin Scales

Wildlife traffickers are openly selling critically endangered pangolins and their scales on Facebook, creating profiles for fake pet zoos that direct potential buyers to private WhatsApp numbers where deals are made.

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On a investigation published Wednesday, the Technological Transparency Project he found half a dozen public pay phones selling pangolin scales simply by searching for the animal's name written in Vietnamese. Many of the pages offered pangolin scales, used in traditional Chinese medicine. The Tech Transparency Project is a research initiative by Campaign for Accountability, a non-partisan and non-profit organization.

"The pangolin is the most trafficked animal in the world," Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Tech Transparency Project, told BuzzFeed News. "And it is still easy to find these animals to buy on Facebook".

The main way for traffickers to sell pangolins on Facebook is to create fake listings for zoos. On three pages viewed by BuzzFeed News, the moderator had listed the profile as a zoo or animal rescue service, although the pages had titles like "Pangolin scales for sale in Vietnam" and "Rhinoceros and Pangolin scales for sale in China. ". Many pages also direct potential buyers to WhatsApp numbers.

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“We hunt and discreetly sell rhino and pangolin scales, please contact us for more information on purchasing, WhatsApp me,” said one page.

Sarah Uhlemann, international program director and senior lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, told BuzzFeed News that she was not surprised that researchers at the Technological Transparency Project found pangolins on Facebook. Uhlemann said he was able to find suppliers online in the same way as the Technological Transparency Project team: by searching for the word "pangolin" in simplified Mandarin.

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"It's not that hard to find," she said. "I would say that the Vietnamese bond is not surprising to me."

“We hunt and discreetly sell rhino and pangolin scales, please contact us for more information on purchasing, WhatsApp me,” said one page.

Uhlemann said Vietnamese Facebook users who sell pangolin scales are probably connected to a larger network that traffics African pangolins from countries like Nigeria to Vietnam and then to China. "We are seeing a lot of stopovers coming out of Nigeria and usually shipped with ivory," she said. According to Uhlemann, pangolin scales are typically powdered, combined with other Chinese herbal medicines, and then sold in a mixture that can be consumed in a pill; it is presented for a variety of uses, including lactation, skin diseases and paralysis.

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And the demand for pangolins has not declined, despite the population being decimated in China and labeled as threatened or critically endangered worldwide. According to April report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the seizures of pangolins poached in Africa and destined for Asian markets have increased tenfold since 2014.

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"In April last year, an operation seized 25 tons of African pangolin scales – representing about 50,000 dead pangolins – with a market value of around $ 7 million," said Ghada Waly, executive director of the UN office. , On the report. "Between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized worldwide."

The Tech Transparency Project discovered another pangolin dealer who created a Facebook event page in South Africa. The event, which was seen by BuzzFeed News, was titled “Sandawana and Pangolin Animals on Sale Worls[[[[sic]Largo. "The event included a WhatsApp number and announced a" love spell using Pangolin oil ".

Two of the pages discovered by the Tech Transparency Report were taken down by Facebook after BuzzFeed News contacted the platform for comment.

Facebook said that it does not tolerate the illegal trade in endangered animals and their parts on our platforms and will remove pages or events and associated accounts when these policies are violated. Site moderators use a combination of technology, reports from NGO partners, reports from our community and human review to detect and remove violating content.

Since pangolin traffic pages are directing potential customers to WhatsApp's encrypted channels, it is difficult to estimate the size of these operations. The most popular of these pages had 336 followers on Wednesday. The Tech Transparency Project also found a public post still active that advertised pangolin shells, which a Vietnamese herbal medicine retailer published last June. There were 100 comments from interested buyers.

According to Richard Thomas, a spokesman for Traffic, a non-governmental organization that monitors the global wildlife trade, Facebook is not the most common way of trafficking pangolins, but it can be used to advertise animal scales.

"Most of the pangolin trafficking tends to be large shipments of scales, moving mainly between Africa and Asia," Thomas told BuzzFeed News. "Social media platforms are not a common medium used for trafficking pangolins, but if someone has pieces of pangolin or pangolins for sale, it could be one of the ways they use to advertise this."

Facebook is an active member of the Coalition to End Trafficking in Wild Animals Online, which brings together companies from around the world in partnership with wildlife groups such as Traffic, the Global Fund for Nature and the International Fund for Welfare Animal. Coalition members removed or blocked more than 3 million listings for endangered and endangered species and associated products from their online platforms.

However, in a secret complaint filed in 2018 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a group of wildlife advocates accused the platform of running ads on pages selling body parts of endangered animals, including elephant ivory, rhino horns and tiger teeth.

"It is really just public shame that will make a difference for them."

One of the biggest debates in the world now – from which animal the new coronavirus originated – it also implies pangolins.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is thought to be zoonotic, originating from animals and jumping to humans. The genetic similarity of COVID-19 to RaTG13, a virus discovered in 2013 in bats in Yunnan province, China, has led many scientists to suggest that COVID-19 be started in bats and transmitted to an intermediate animal before infecting beings humans. What makes scaly animals an intermediate suspect is the resemblance between proteins in a coronavirus found in the lungs of Malaysian pangolins and the proteins in COVID-19

Vincent Racaniello, professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University and presenter of the podcast This week in Virology, told BuzzFeed News that he doubted that pangolins were the host.

“These viruses originated from bats. How they got into people, we don't know, "he said." The remaining question is how it got to people, but that will require more sampling of wildlife. "

Before investigating the pangolin trade, the Tech Transparency Project published a report last month exposing Private Facebook groups belonging to dangerous extremists who were using protests against the coronavirus block to recruit new members.

"Our goal here is to show the size of a problem," said Stevens. "It is really just public shame that will make a difference for them."

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