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An investigation into the illegal net trade in live animals and animal products has revealed that those with sufficient cash can purchase anything from a gorilla to a Siberian tiger or - if they sound like a bit of a handful - elephant tusks or a stuffed peregrine falcon.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) three-month probe showed that during one week punters could avail themselves of no less than 9,000 live animals or products on sites such as eBay. Many of them - up to 70 per cent, claims IFAW - are endangered species, provoking the organisation to condemn the "lucrative trade that is driving the world's most endangered species to the brink of extinction and causing untold suffering".

IFAW UK director, Phyllis Campbell-McRae, notes: "Trade on the internet is easy, cheap and anonymous. However, it is clear that unscrupulous traders and sophisticated criminal gangs are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the World Wide Web. The result is a cyber black market where the future of the world's rarest animals is being traded away. This situation must be tackled immediately by governments and website owners before it is too late."

The solution is, of course, clear, as Campbell-McRae adds: "Each one of us also has a responsibility to stop buying and selling wild animals and wildlife products. Trade in wildlife is driven by consumer demand, so when the buying stops, the killing will too. Our message to online shoppers is simple: buying wildlife online is as damaging as killing it yourself."

So, the next time you're on eBay after a few pints and a white rhinocerous catches your eye, do the decent thing and bid for something less cataclysmic for the environment - like this lovely 2006 Kittens Calendar. True, it's marginally less exciting than a Siberian tiger, but at least you'll be spared the chore of cleaning up after Satan has made merry with next door's pet poodle. ®

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