Samples of some of the observed posts on Facebook advertising Sun Bear cubs and parts for sale.

Revealing the Online Trade of Sun Bears in Indonesia

Indonesia, mammals, online trade, Sun Bears

Illegal wildlife trade in Indonesia is widespread and online platforms are used to trade in a myriad of live animals, their parts and derivatives, including Sun Bears Helarctos malayanus

Monitor examined the online trade of bears on Facebook in Indonesia and found at least 158 posts advertising the sale of live bears and their parts between January 2013 and January 2019.  Though completely protected in Indonesia since 1973, live Sun Bears and their parts are persistently offered for sale in Indonesia in violation of national laws.  The majority of these were posted in the last three years i.e. 2017 (n=57) followed by 2016 (n=45) and 2018 (n=33). Bear claws were the main item offered for sale followed by teeth and live cubs.  Claws are considered talismans and trophies, while live cubs are kept as pets.

Due to weak legislation and lax enforcement, illegal wildlife trade flourishes in Indonesia, with well-organised networks of traders operating openly, taking advantage of high profit margins and a low risk of detection and prosecution.  An analysis of bear seizure data for Indonesia between 2011 and 2018 showed that only 32% of incidents resulted in successful prosecution and only one of those cases came close to the maximum penalty afforded by the law.

Facebook and other social media platforms are more difficult to monitor and regulate, compared to markets and other physical premises.  Multiple anonymous social media accounts can easily be set up and secret trade groups make it difficult for law enforcement authorities. Face-to-face meetings between the seller and the buyer are no longer required as payment can be transferred via online banking and the goods shipped direct to the buyer. The convenience of these transactions makes it more difficult to connect buyers and sellers, which could later be used as evidence in court.

“The fact that Sun Bears are for sale on social media points to a fundamental flaw – that it is not an offence to post offers of protected species for sale,” says Monitor’s Lalita Gomez, the study’s lead author.  “While the sale of Sun Bears, their parts and derivatives is illegal, the authorities can only take enforcement action against anyone in possession of protected species or when physically involved in an illegal transaction. Traders are aware of this flaw, and manipulate it to their advantage.”

Considering the difficulty in monitoring illegal activities on social media, improvements to wildlife laws and policies are urgently required to address these loopholes and empower enforcement authorities in taking action against illegal online wildlife traders.  Sun Bears are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with populations described as being in decline across their range.  Improving wildlife laws and enforcement action is crucial in protecting this species from further demise.

Revealing the online trade of Sun Bears in Indonesia  by Lalita Gomez, Chris R. Shepherd and John Morgan was published in the Traffic Bulletin

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