Wildlife ranks the fourth among illegally traded items. The insatiable market demand for wildlife products directly threatens plants, animals and their natural habitats. Identifying illegal trade and understanding consumer trends is important for the conservation of overexploited species. The internet and social media have emerged as popular platforms for wildlife trade, and surveying these marketplaces is an important tool for conservation. Due to their high demand and high value, we choose turtles as a case study to demonstrate the usefulness of monitoring the online trade. We collected data (species, number and price) on the sale of live turtles from a Hong Kong-based internet forum for 36 months (September 2013–August 2016) to assess the scale of the trade, identify potential illegal trade and investigate factors that influence prices. We recorded 14,360 individuals of 136 species, including 67 threatened species. Of the 77 species sold that are listed in CITES appendices, 36% were likely illegally traded as they had neither possession licenses under Hong Kong law nor CITES import records. Turtles with the highest prices tended to be critically endangered species, wild-caught or those with special morphological forms. Sale of hybrid turtles of 38 “species/varieties” occurred in 4% of all sale posts. Our survey of the online trade in Hong Kong discovered important trends of sale price and consumer preference, collected baseline data for enforcing trade regulations and highlighted likely illegal trade of turtles. We encourage similar studies for other highly traded wildlife to be incorporated into integrative approaches for conservation management.
- Anthropogenic Allee effect