Illegal pet trade on social media as an emerging impediment to the conservation of Asian otters species
Abstract Social media has become an increasingly popular platform to trade legal and illegal wildlife. Here, we evaluate the online trade of otters, a group of globally threatened taxa in Thailand, a country of high global social media use. During the 14-month period, we monitored five Facebook groups to establish a primary understanding of the scope and scale of the trade. We recorded 160 sales posts (337 individual otters) of two species, the Asian small-clawed otter ( Aonyx cinereus ) (81%) and the smooth-coated otter ( Lutrogale perspicillata ) (19%). Newborn otter pups accounted for 53% of the offers, whereas young otters accounted for 35%. Prices averaged US$78, where the smooth-coated otter was offered at a significantly higher price than the Asian small-clawed otter. Juvenile otters were also significantly more expensive than newborns. Trade appears to be domestic; however, the potential for international trade cannot be overlooked. Although otters are protected domestically, we find that the trade is easily accessible and prevalent. The results reflect current inadequacies in enforcement and legislation in keeping pace with the rapidly shifting nature of the Internet in Thailand and throughout the global Internet community. A consistent collaborative effort from consumers, enforcement agencies, and operators is required to address this illicit trade.
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