June 8, 2018 / 8:38 AM / 16 days ago

Southeast Asia's illegal wild otter trade moves online, wildlife group says

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Southeast Asia’s illegal trade in wild otters has moved online to target buyers across the region and as far away as Japan, a group that monitors wildlife trafficking said on Friday.

A small-clawed otter is pictured inside a cage at a wildlife pet market in Yogjakarta, Indonesia, November 22, 2017. L.Gomez/TRAFFIC Handout via REUTERS

The region, home to four endangered species of otters, has seen high demand for young otters as pets, which are now being sold on social media and websites, TRAFFIC said in a report.

Although the species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), some of them are not legally protected in Southeast Asia, leaving them vulnerable to poaching and trade.

FILE PHOTO: A skin of a small-clawed otter is pictured at a traditional medicine stall at a market, in Phonsavan, Laos, March 8, 2017. L.Gomez/TRAFFIC Handout via REUTERS

“The online commerce of very young otter cubs for the pet trade adds a new dimension of concern,” said a regional TRAFFIC official, Kanitha Krishnasamy.

FILE PHOTO: A small-clawed otter is pictured inside a cage at a pet shop, in Serang, Indonesia November 18, 2017. Picture taken November 18, 2017. L.Gomez/TRAFFIC Handout via REUTERS

Wild otters featured in at least 560 online advertisements from January to April this year, offering up to 1,189 animals for sale in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, the group said in its report.

More than seven in 10 animals were younger than a year, it added.

From 2015 to 2017, four Southeast Asian countries confiscated 59 otters in 13 seizures, most of them in Thailand and Indonesia where commercial breeding may be taking place, the group said, with at least 32 seized en route from Thailand to Japan.

TRAFFIC urged Southeast Asian governments to use existing wildlife trafficking laws to fully protect all otter species. It also urged authorities to investigate reports of otters being bred for the commercial trade and ensure it is regulated.

“Weak national laws hinder enforcement action and widespread trade in otters online throws the survival of remaining wild populations in Southeast Asia into question,” said Krishnasamy.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez

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