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 Post subject: english: Wildlife Trafficking in Brazil
PostPosted: Thu Oct 07, 2004 9:11 pm 
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Illegal trafficking in wild animals has become a lucrative business as demand for exotic species continues to increase. Brazil with an estimated 12 million animals being bought and sold illegally each year is a growing source for this illegal business that is now rivalled only by the arms and drug trade.

A recent seizure of a truck filled with animals and birds illustrates the magnitude of the problem. Police in the northeastern state of Bahia say the truck was carrying more than 1,800 animals, including 14 species of birds, 20 iguanas and 15 Amazonian saki monkeys. The vehicle was headed for the southern city of Sao Paulo, where the animals were to be sold.

Jose Leland, who heads the Investigation Department at Brazil's Environment Agency, IBAMA, says the seizure in Bahia is part of a huge illicit business that brings in an estimated $1.5 billion a year. The worldwide trade in illegal animals is estimated at $15 billion. With such huge sums of money involved, Mr. Leland said smuggling animals is similar to the drug trade. "The traffickers of wild animals have a huge network, similar to those of drug traffickers and in many cases associated with drug smuggling," Mr. Leland said. "There are people who are involved in wildlife trafficking, who also are involved in smuggling drugs. So this is a very serious problem. We have a frontier that is absolutely open. The animals are taken overland, on the highways of the Amazon, by air from the airports in Rio, Sao Paulo, and Recife and by river into Peru and Colombia."

Some animals and reptiles, such as certain poisonous snakes, are bought by research laboratories for use in experiments. But most end up in the United States, Europe and Asia where they are bought by people who want exotic tropical pets. Prices for rare species such as the Blue Macaw are high up to $50,000 for a male and female pair. A golden tamarin monkey can fetch up to $20,000.

Dener Giovanini, who heads an organization to combat the animal trade, said what he calls a perverse kind of logic governs the market for wild animals. "The logic of the trafficking is that the rarer an animal is, the higher the price," Mr. Giovanini said. "Consequently, there is a vicious circle: a rare animal fetches a higher price, is more in demand, and so faces a greater threat of extinction."

Mr. Giovanini's group and the environment agency, IBAMA, plan to release a report later this year detailing for the first time the extent of the problem. From the initial research, Mr. Giovanini believes almost 12 million animals a year are captured in the wild and sold in Brazil or abroad. "Even though the study is not yet completed, I can say that in reality the trafficking is much greater than we had imagined it is much more critical," Mr. Giovanini said. "There are many more trafficking rings operating in the country, capturing these animals in the wild and selling them in Brazil or abroad. Today, we estimate that close to 12 million wild animals are captured each year in Brazil, and used to supply both the domestic and international market."

Stopping this trafficking is extremely difficult. IBAMA's Jose Leland said his agency does not have enough money to control all the illegal activities underway in Brazil's vast tropical rainforest. He said of his budget of $15 million, more than half is spent on stopping illegal logging and burning in the Amazon region alone. Little is left over for combating the animal trade.

Mr. Leland said Brazil's poverty also plays a role. "This is also a problem related to the poverty of the people who capture these animals," Mr. Leland said. "The majority of these animals are captured in regions where poverty is the greatest. You have birds captured in the northeast, in areas where people have no way to survive and you have the same thing in the Amazon where poverty levels are high. So it's a social question."

Raising public awareness of the problem appears to be the best hope for stopping the trade. Traffickers often sedate the animals, stuff them in suitcases or boxes, and even blind them in the attempt to smuggle them out of the country. Of every ten animals captured, only one survives to reach its destination.

Mr. Leland and others say if more people were aware of this, the demand for exotic tropical pets would fall. But until this happens, the wild animal trade is likely to continue and will remain what the Brazilian environmental official describes as an "ugly, national embarrassment".

Does anyone know how to support Ibama and Mr.Leland?


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