Salamander can Shine Spotlight on Wildlife Trade and the Internet (Inaugural Zoo Peeps Post)
By Laurel A. Neme, PhD
As delegates to the CITES Conference of Parties meeting in Doha, Qatar this month consider whether or not to list the Kaiser’s spotted newt (Neurergus kaiseri) under Appendix I, they will also highlight the role of e-commerce in promoting trade of rare wildlife species and the desperate need to examine how to police the Internet more effectively.
The Kaiser’s spotted newt is a rare salamander endemic to four streams in the southern part of Iran’s Zagros Mountains. Thought to number less than 1,000 mature individuals in the wild, the species is highly sought after as pets by collectors, particularly in Europe and Japan. In Iran, this newt is considered an endangered species and collecting them requires a permit. In the international arena, however, it is not yet protected.
Populations of Kaiser’s spotted newt have plummeted quickly and dramatically, by 80 percent over recent years, largely due to the apparent ability of sellers to tap a global market through e-commerce. A 2006 report by TRAFFIC notes ten websites selling the animal, and a CITES document (CoP15 Prop. 14) relates how one Ukranian company, reputedly at the center of international distribution, reported selling 200 wild-caught newts in 2005, and boasted that it would have another 250 of the animals available in January 2006.
While online marketing is a common method to connect sellers of rare animals and animal products with buyers, authorities struggle with how to police it. The 2008 prohibition by EBay, the well-known auction site, that prevents listing elephant ivory as an item available for sale is one method that helps reduce the trade. But what of items not listed on the auction site? When sellers are dispersed, policing them becomes a far more challenging issue. As CITES delegates consider whether or not to list the Kaiser’s spotted newt under Appendix I, by necessity they will also need to explore how to target online sales of illegal wildlife and wildlife products. Hence, discussion on the fate of this small creature, which is poised to become the first species protected because of e-commerce, can shine a welcome spotlight on a sticky issue.