AboutZoos, Since 2008


South­east Asia’s appetite for pet otters sat­is­fied by Face­book and other websites

pub­lished 17 June 2018 | mod­i­fied 17 June 2018

cover page otter reportThe online pet trade has emerged as a press­ing threat to otters in South­east Asia with a new study of the TRAFFIC-​IUCN Otter Spe­cial­ist Group (OSG) study reveal­ing hun­dreds of the ani­mals for sale on Face­book and other web­sites over a four-​month period.

The Ille­gal Otter Trade in South­east Asia report, released on 8 June, revealed a high demand for juve­nile live otters in the region, with over 70% of the ani­mals offered for sale online under a year old.

A mon­i­tor­ing effort of only one-​hour per week in Indone­sia, Malaysia, Philip­pines and Thai­land turned up a min­i­mum of 560 adver­tise­ments in which traders offered a min­i­mum of 734 and a max­i­mum of 1189 otters for sale between Jan­u­ary and April 2017.

The fact that so many otters can be so eas­ily acquired and offered for sale to thou­sands at the click of a but­ton and sub­jected to lit­tle or no reg­u­la­tion, is a seri­ous problem.

Kanitha Krish­nasamy, Act­ing Regional Direc­tor for TRAF­FIC in South­east Asia.

Indone­sia accounted for most of otters for sale in this study — an aver­age of 711 of all otters observed for sale — fol­lowed by Thai­land with 204.

The two coun­tries stood out again when researchers analysed the total of 13 otter seizure records in the region between August 2015 and Decem­ber 2017, involv­ing the con­fis­ca­tion of 59 live otters. Cou­pled with the online trade fig­ures, they found Indone­sia and Thai­land to be the most active source and demand coun­tries for otters in the region.

“The online com­merce of very young otter cubs for the pet trade adds a new dimen­sion of con­cern. The appeal of these cute ani­mals is unde­ni­able, but otter cubs are dif­fi­cult to hand rear and sus­cep­ti­ble to the same dis­eases as cats and dogs. We hope that this report will alert the author­i­ties and help cur­tail this regret­table new devel­op­ment,” said Nicole Duplaix, Chair of the IUCN-​SSC Otter Spe­cial­ist Group.

While much of the trade in Indone­sia and Thai­land was appar­ently to meet local demand, both coun­tries were impli­cated in the traf­fick­ing of otters to Japan. Seizure records showed Japan as the des­ti­na­tion for 32 live Small-​clawed Otters smug­gled from Thailand.

Asian small-clawed ottersAsian small-​clawed otters are listed as Vul­ner­a­ble in the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species. It was the most fre­quently encoun­tered otter species dur­ing the study.
Image IUCN — Nicole Duplaix

Prob­lems with leg­is­la­tion in many of the coun­tries stud­ied was iden­ti­fied as a major con­trib­u­tor to the uncon­trolled exploita­tion of otters for trade.

South­east Asia is home to four species of otters — Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), hairy-​nosed otter (Lutra suma­trana), small-​clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) and smooth-​coated otter (Lutro­gale per­spic­il­lata). Not all are pro­tected by national laws and even where they are, often with­out ade­quate regulation.

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.

The small-​clawed otter is espe­cially vul­ner­a­ble as it was the species most fre­quently encoun­tered dur­ing the study. At least 700 indi­vid­ual ani­mals were observed for sale dur­ing the online sur­vey period.

The report urges South­east Asian gov­ern­ments fully to pro­tect all otter species from exploita­tion, pun­ish online wildlife crime and work with con­ser­va­tion groups to pur­sue avenues to edu­cate con­sumers and reduce the demand for otters as pets.

The study also rec­om­mends author­i­ties inves­ti­gate reports that otters are being cap­tive bred for com­mer­cial trade, to deter­mine if this is indeed per­mit­ted and is reg­u­lated. The authors said this would help address the large unknown as to what pro­por­tion of otters are being sourced from the wild.

The report was under­taken after a pre­vi­ous TRAFFIC-​IUCN OSG study high­lighted the paucity of infor­ma­tion avail­able on otter trade in South­east Asia.

As part of the study, coun­try infor­ma­tion cards were also pro­duced to pro­vide quick and easy ref­er­ence on otters for front­line enforce­ment offi­cers and the con­ser­va­tion community.

(Source: IUCN press release, 08.06.2018)

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