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Internet breeds market for endangered species

The Internet has emerged as one of the greatest threats to rare species, fueling the illegal wildlife trade and making it easier to buy items such as baby lions and wine made from tiger bones, conservationists and law enforcement officers said Sunday.

The Web's impact was made clear at the meeting in Qatar of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. Delegates voted Sunday to ban trade of the Kaiser's spotted newt, which the World Wildlife Fund says has been devastated by Internet trade.

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A proposal from the United States and Sweden to regulate the trade in red and pink coral -- which is crafted into expensive jewelry and sold extensively online -- was defeated. Delegates rejected the idea mostly over concerns that increased regulations might impact poor fishing communities.

"The Internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species," said Paul Todd, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In 2008, a three-month IFAW survey found more than 7,000 species worth $3.8 million sold on auction sites and in classified ads and chat rooms, mostly in the U.S. but also in Europe, China, Russia and Australia.

Most of what is traded is illegal African ivory but the group also found exotic birds and rare products such as pelts from protected species.

A 2009 survey by Campaign Against the Cruelty to Animals targeted the Internet trade in Ecuador, finding offers to sell capuchin monkeys, lion cubs and ocelots. "As the Internet knows no borders, it causes several new problems regarding the enforcement of the protection of endangered species," the group said.

The newt is an example of what can happen through online trade. They number around 1,000 and live in Iran. About 200 have been traded annually over the years. Their population has fallen 80 percent.

"The Internet itself isn't the threat, but it's another way to market the product," said Ernie Cooper, who has researched the newt. "Most people are not willing to pay $300 for a salamander. But through the power of the Internet ... you can find buyers."

Kaiser's spotted newt is seen in Iran. The newt is a textbook example of what can happen to one species through the web. According to a study by the WWF, the black and brown salamandar with white spots is coveted in the pet trade. Though only approximately 1,000 exist, about 200 were traded for about $300 annually over the years, mostly through a trade who from Ukraine who sold over the web. (AP Photo/Mozarfar Sharifi)

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