Environmentalists warn that social media sites such as Facebook act as blooming online marketplaces for illegal trafficking of endangered species.

A wildlife monitoring network called Traffic discovered Malaysian Facebook groups where many protected animals were subject to illegal trade. Among the species were binturongs (bearcats), gibbons and sun bears.

The monitoring extended over five months, and 14 Facebook groups were scrutinized for 30 minutes a day. The result: over 300 wild, live animals were up on sale as pets.

Traffic's Sarah Stoner says that, usually, the number of people who are involved in this type of black market is rather limited. However, she notes that in a number of 236 posts, no less than 106 different sellers were identified, showing how rampant and widespread the problem actually is.

Open wildlife markets are common in other parts of Asia, but not in Malaysia. Their conclusion was that a local demand for these animals already existed in the country, and now the Internet and social media allows an outlet for the offer and demand dynamic.

What is more, almost 50 percent of the recorded species show up on the protected list, making their trade illegal under Malaysian law. As much as 69 non-native species were traded and 25 of them appear under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

All the details of the investigation were placed at Facebook's disposal, and the social networking company is looking to find a practical and long-term solution to stop the trend. Facebook also confirmed that it's working closely with Traffic in order to crack on illegal online trade of wild species in Malaysia.

"Facebook does not allow the sale and trade of endangered animals and we will not hesitate to remove any content that violates our terms of service," a Facebook spokesperson says.

The environmentalists also notified the Malaysian authorities of the issue.

BBC spoke to Hasnan Yusop, a Department of Wildlife and National Parks representative. He says that 43 successful seizures and 54 arrests of illegal traders happened so far. On top of that, more than 67 wildlife species were saved from the Facebook illegal trading. He goes on to say that his department countered wildlife trafficking as early as 2013.

Yusop underlines that all those who are found in violation of the law will face "harsh penalties."

Investigators worry that the rapid expansion of social media and smartphone devices grants easy access to protected wildlife for both customers and illegal vendors. A lot of potential buyers can quickly and affordably grow into a threat against protected wildlife from Malaysia and overseas, Traffic asserts.

Researchers at Traffic also point out that, even if their latest study focuses on Malaysia, the problem is global.

"Although the findings are about illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia, we believe it reflects a worldwide problem," says Sarah Stoner from Traffic.

"[The situation] demands nothing short of a concerted global response," Stoner concludes.

Facebook recently took a stand against another type of traffic that happened behind the closed doors of its private groups. In January, the social network updated its regulated goods policy to counter the increased number of private gun sales.

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