Wild animals and birds sold online under ‘code names’ —

Next time you look to buy a teddy bear online, make sure it’s not Australian. Wildlife traffickers are using code words to sell endangered animals and their body parts on e-commerce sites operating in India, making it difficult to monitor such sales.

While an ‘Australian teddy bear’ may turn out to be a koala, a marsupial native to Australia, ‘dhaariwala chaddar’ (striped sheet) is the code for tiger skin, the sale of which is illegal in the country.

The government of India said on Monday (18 July 2016) that several websites, including Amazon, Snapdeal, OLX, EBay, Alibaba and Quikr, have been advertising sale of rare animals and their parts. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) has collated a list of 106 such websites, environment minister Anil Madhav Dave told Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Parliament) on Monday in response to a question.

In his written reply, he said illegal online smuggling of rare animals and their parts were being monitored under relevant laws existing under the department of information technology at both state and central government as part of combating cyber crime. Several e-tailers have been proactive on the issue, say WCCB officials. Prominent ones such as Amazon, EBay, OLX and Snapdeal claim to have cracked down on such sales.

“We met executives from these portals in May this year. We had discussions on ways and means in which they can assist us to weed out such sellers on their websites,” senior WCCB officials told Times Of India (TOI).

While trade portals such as Amazon and Snapdeal have good control over their sellers, classifieds such as Quikr and Olx do not have much say,” WCCB officials said.

“Some time ago, an ‘Australian teddy bear’ was being sold for Rs 2 lakh (200,000 rupees) on a prominent website,” said Nikunj Sharma, a government affairs liasioning officer at PETA India, who is lobbying to shut down animal trading sections on websites. “The problem is with smaller websites, some of which do not even have offices in the country. We have supplied the prominent websites with code words and filters and have asked them to report what would seem like suspicious activity to us,” said a WCCB official.

Major sites such as Amazon have acted against suspicious items being sold on their websites. “In May this year, Amazon India took down 296 items in the ‘animal specimen’ category and 104 items under the ‘snares or traps’ category, that were listed by third party sellers, after Wildlife SOS drew our attention to them,” said an Amazon India spokesperson. “Such products are no longer available on Amazon.in and in addition, we have strictly enforced any attempts to inadvertently sell them. We have also provided information as and when required by various government bodies and will continue to do so.”

EBay said it has zero tolerance for any wrongdoing. “We have strict policies in place to stop the sale of products from endangered animals on the site. However, if any listing violation is found on the site, then not only is the listing removed, but the seller may also be subject to a range of other actions,” said an EBay India spokesperson.

“At OLX, we take several steps to ensure that protected animals and birds are not put up for sale by the users,” said an OLX spokesperson. Despite several attempts by TOI, Quikr spokesperson could not be reached.

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