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Online trade 'threatens wildlife'

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Chimpanzees are among the animals for sale on the Web, says the IFAW.

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LONDON, England -- Thousands of live animals and wildlife products are being traded illegally every week on the Internet, according to a study by an animal protection group.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said Tuesday the online trade is posing a growing threat to the world's most endangered species and causing untold suffering.

"Trade on the Internet is easy, cheap and anonymous," says Phyllis Campbell-McRae, director of IFAW UK.

"However, it is clear that unscrupulous traders and sophisticated criminal gangs are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the World Wide Web," she said.

"The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world's rarest animals is being traded away."

The IFAW found more than 9,000 wild animals or products -- ranging from live chimpanzees and to ivory tusks -- for sale in chat rooms and on legitimate trading sites in a one-week period alone.

At least 70 percent of these sales were related to species protected by international law, said the IFAW, which conducted the study over a three-month period.

The IFAW said many of these animals are being targeted by poachers to meet the demands of wealthy consumers around the world, as well as being traded as "pets."

One U.S. Web site offered exotic pets including a gorilla, four baby chimpanzees and a Siberian tiger, as well as other endangered species, the IFAW said.

The group said high profits and low penalties -- coupled with little risk of detection on the Internet -- provides little or no deterrent to organized criminal groups.

"This situation must be tackled immediately by governments and Web site owners before it is too late," the IFAW said its report "Caught in the Web, wildlife trade on the Internet."

The report adds: "Each one of us also has a responsibility to stop buying and selling wild animals and wildlife products. Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops the killing will too.

"Our message to online shoppers is simple -- buying wildlife online is as damaging as killing it yourself."

Professor William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, said the Internet is "a two-edged sword."

"It can be used by some to support the trading of wildlife, but others can use this new medium to expose and challenge it," he told the UK's Press Association.

"Laws exist to stop the unlawful use of any communication medium, but governments and agencies need to communicate in order to address the activities that span the globe."

IFAW has launched its own Web site -- www.caughtintheweb.co.uk -- on how to prevent wildlife trade on the Internet.

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