'Facebook Live' Hosts Illegal Pet Market in Taiwan

'Facebook Live' Hosts Illegal Pet Market in Taiwan
Credit: Yulin

What you need to know

One potential customer asked if they could raise an ostrich in their backyard.

Facebook launched the “Facebook Live” function last year, which allows individuals and businesses to livestream video from their profile. In Taiwan, this new offering has taken an odd turn, with the service being used to sell animals from ostriches to terrapins.

Of the 1,000 most-viewed live streams in Taiwan, 538 were auctions from private accounts, and another 172 were live auctions from businesses; of the total, 70 percent were selling products of some kind. Online trading via live auctions is difficult to regulate – the law hasn’t caught up to technology, and many sales exist in a legal grey area.

Products Sold over Facebook Live

Of these broadcasts, 7.5 percent involved selling animals. Facebook’s terms of use expressly forbid the sale of animals, but this restriction obviously isn’t effective without local law enforcement actively backing it up. Many animals not traditionally sold as pets have appeared at Taiwan's auction, including foxes, goats, pigs, turtles, ducks, meerkats and ostriches. One page even claimed to have sold more than 500 turtles and 3,000 tortoises.

Meerkat

Meerkat

Indian star tortoise

Indian star tortiose

Ostrich

Ostrich

Ferret

Ferret

Pig

Pig

Goat

Goat

Snake

Snake

Matamata (a kind of turtle)

楓葉龜

Legal Loopholes

Existing animal protection laws only safeguard “certain pets,” which was originally interpreted to be dogs; protections were only extended to include cats in April 2017. Tang Yi-zhi (湯宜之), secretary of animal rights group Life Conservationist Association (關懷生命協會), told The News Lens, “At present, cats and dogs are better protected than wild animals. In terms of breeding and selling, there are established statutes. Other animals are in a sort of unregulated status. For instance, owners are not obliged to seek medical treatment for pets such as turtles, frogs or fish when they get sick.”

She added: “The problem of trafficking animals over the internet is exploding. Many of these forums are closed to the public and cannot be controlled. It is difficult for authorities to collect evidence of abuse; many of these animals may appear cute, healthy and well-fed, but they are not properly trained. They are paving the way for their future owners to abandon them. Many are never taken to a vet, and the sellers sometimes just drop them off at people’s doors. The live animal trade is an example of poor moral education.”

Jiang Wen-quan (江文全) a section chief of the animal husbandry department of the department of agriculture said: “We do not encourage people to raise or trade in these kinds of animals, such as when people win goldfish or rabbits at carnival games. One cannot legally sell cats or dogs over the internet. However, other living animals are currently perfectly legal to trade online. Many countries are encountering this problem. Internet transactions are very difficult to monitor. If we close down one sales platform, people will just move to another to find clients.”

A Shifting Market

Some Facebook live dealers sell protected species, especially terrapins and African spurred tortoises. In order to buy or sell animals on the conservation list, sellers need certificates to prove that they were bred in captivity, not caught in the wild.

In August this year, Taiwan's Forestry Bureau amended the Wildlife Conservation Act to further restrict which endangered animals can be bought, sold or displayed in public places without permission from authorities. However, as long as a seller has a license to deal in protected species, it is almost impossible to tell whether an individual animal was born in the wild. Turtles rarely carry photo IDs.

Some of these "pets" can be quite dangerous, especially animals like meerkats that are almost impossible to keep indoors, and can turn quite vicious when they reach adulthood.

Japan has similar problems with North American raccoons – a children’s cartoon in the 1970s led many families to buy the animals as pets, not realizing that they grow to 25 kilograms in adulthood. Many escaped and continue to harm Japan’s ecosystem to this day.

An unabridged Chinese-language version of this article can be found here.

Editor: Morley J Weston


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