Sunday, February 23, 2003

CHIMPANZEES FOR SALE IN CYBERSPACE

Uproar over Internet market for zoo animals

The business of selling exotic and endangered animals has escalated from an underground network of backyard deals into a multibillion-dollar industry in which chimpanzees can be ordered over the Internet.

The booming exotic pet trade in many cases can be traced to one of America's most family-friendly institutions -- the local zoo -- and zoo professionals and other experts are so concerned that they have formed a new national coalition to expose the abuses and protect the animals.

Since the 1970s, zoos have declared thousands of lions, tigers, bears and other creatures "surplus" because of over-breeding, inadequate funding or simply because the animals failed to wow visitors as they once did. Some zoos have sold the animals to brokers, who funnel them to breeders, hunting ranches, research facilities, circuses, auctions or individuals looking for the latest exotic pet.

But in recent years, experts say, the Internet has brought the industry in from the wild -- and right into the living room.

With a click of a mouse, one can buy a camel, white tiger, chimpanzee, penguin and any other animal or reptile....

The Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, to be launched Tuesday, will put together a national database on exotic animals kept as pets; support animal welfare legislation; fund animal sanctuaries; and educate the public....

Experts say the industry thrives because of inconsistent or nonexistent state and federal laws governing the sale and use of exotic animals....