DUBAI: Animal traffickers are using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to sell critically endangered and exotic monkeys as pets in the UAE.
“Marmoset and capuchin monkeys for sale. They are very playful with kids and get along with other pets. They are also potty trained. Please contact for more information if interested,” reads a post on a Facebook group based in the UAE.
“Well-trained marmoset monkeys, tamed and ready for new home,” says an online advertisement alongside a WhatsApp number on another Facebook group.
Marmosets don’t figure on the list of endangered animals, but blond capuchin – a species of the capuchin monkeys group -- does. And it was this species which was offered to this reporter when she posed as a buyer.
“The animal costs Dh1,900. We will deliver it to you any where in the UAE in less than 24 hours as soon as you remit us 50 per cent of the amount through Western Union,” said the seller who claimed to be operating from Los Angeles, USA.
For good measure she also offered a “one-year health guarantee. “Don’t worry, we will handle everthing for you,” she said.
It’s not an idle boast. Earlier this year, a teenager in Abu Dhabi bought an infant baboon via Instagram for Dh3,500. The animal was later rescued and taken to Al Ain Zoo.
$10 billion industry
Illicit animal trafficking is a $10 billion global industry, with the UAE as a major hub.
In 2014, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that there were 120 online ads in the UAE for internationally protected live animals.
Following the revelations, all online platforms selling endangered live animals were shut down.
But the respite proved to be short-lived as the thriving illegal wildife marketplace has now migrated to social media. Animal activist Ezgi Yalcin said in the past few weeks she has come across six posts advertising the sale of endangered and exotic monkeys on Facebook groups in the country.
“Either the group admins don’t monitor the posts or they are hand in gloves with the sellers,” she said, recalling a recent instance where a seller was peddling a baby chimpanzee in the UAE for Dh750.
The UAE is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which is committed to ending the illegal wildlife trade.
Online trade of animals listed in CITES through social networking platforms and websites is illegal and a violation of Federal Law No 11 of 2002 which governs the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora.
Those caught breaking the law may face a number of penalties ranging from significant fines and confiscation to prison sentences.
However, animals including big cats, continue to be sold on social media. Last year the International Cheetah Conservation Fund recorded 50 social media accounts trading animals. Of them, five appeared to be from dealers in the UAE.
To raise awareness about critically endangered species and the importance of wildlife protection, Dubai Customs is running a programme at Modhesh World 2018 at the World Trade Centre until August 16.
Some of the world’s critically endangered species, including confiscated pieces of ivory are on display.
A series of edutainment activities including sessions on the fight against intellectual property rights infringements and the protection of endangered animals will also be held during the event.