Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Illegal Trafficking of Animales = Big Money for DTOs

Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Guardian y Sin Embargo
                                     Wildlife trafficking on the rise all across Latin America
The Region’s first conference on the trade of growing demand for live and dead animals from world’s most biodiverse continent.

The illegal wildlife trade is increasing all across Latin America, the first high-level conference on the issue in the Americas was told. The illegal trade in animals, which links cruelty and money to the narco traffickers stands out in Mexico and Latin America.

In the case of Mexico, among the species of fauna affected are the yellow-headed parakeet, the red-and-green macaw, the yellow-breasted toucan, the spider monkey, the howler monkey, the red-kneed tarantula, the black iguana and the rattlesnake vipers . 

In the case of Mexico, the abundance of flora and fauna causes the effects on biodiversity to be greater and could be exacerbated if measures are not taken to protect emblematic species, such as the jaguar. The great American feline, whose population extends from Tamaulipas to the rainforest of Argentina, is just one of the many species lurked by the loss of biodiversity.

Top: nearly extinct Vaquita Porpoises, the greatest loss to illegal poaching of the Totoaba Bladders

One of the most dramatic situations is that of totoaba, a fish that has been facing a hard poaching for decades because its crop is greatly coveted in China, where aphrodisiac and medicinal abilities are attributed to it and that can be quoted at $60,000 dollars per kilo. The poached bladders of the Totoaba fish are known as "Cocaine of the Sea". See Archives for our on-going posts about that.

After drugs, guns and human trafficking, wildlife trafficking is the world’s most lucrative organised crime with an annual value of around $20bn (£16bn) each year, according to a 2016 report by Interpol and the UN environment programme.

As the world’s most biodiverse continent, home to roughly 40% of the world’s plant and animal species, Latin America is a hub for the criminal trade. 

Wildlife trafficking is increasing in most countries in the region, including the conference’s host, Peru, said the head of its forestry and wildlife service, Luis Alberto Gonzales-Zuñiga.

“It’s not stalled, or declining, it’s on the rise. It’s a globalised business and it needs a globalised response,” he told the Guardian.

Whether it is the trade in live wildlife or dead animals and their parts, the countries from which they originate need to take the crime more seriously, said Salvador Ortega, Interpol’s head of forest crime for Latin America. They need to understand that they are part of the supply chain for a transnational criminal organisation, he told the Guardian.

“Corruption is the most disruptive element for our investigations in this region,” Ortega added. “[It] damages international police cooperation and transnational investigations which are fundamental to combat a crime whose origin may be this region, but whose destination is the regions which finance these crimes.”

While collectors in the US, Europe and the Middle East largely drive the smuggling of live specimens, east Asia, particularly China, is a major destination for wildlife parts, Ortega noted.

The poaching of jaguars, the largest big cat in the Americas, for teeth, skin and bones has grown for the first time since the 1970s to feed rising demand for Chinese traditional medicine and exotic jewellery. It is linked to increased Chinese investment in the region, experts say.

The threatened carnivore was the image chosen as the emblem for the initiative launched in Lima on illegal wildlife trade last week. Revered by several pre-hispanic cultures, the animal continues to hold a mystical appeal for the continent’s many peoples even as it faces new threats.

Lishu Li, programme manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in China, said that the government there was taking “serious actions to combat the illegal wildlife trade” with more prosecutions, longer jail terms and fines.

Sue Lieberman, vice president for international policy at the WCS, said there were strong incentives for the region to combat wildlife trafficking beyond fighting crime.

“Ecotourism for one is really important source of foreign exchange,” she said. “But if you don’t have wildlife to view people aren’t going to come.

“If enforcement is increased and governments collaborate more with each other I believe we can stop this in time,” she added.
Part of a haul of 12.3m seahorses seized in the port of Callao, Peru, in September 2019. They were valued at more than $6m. Photograph: Peruvian Ministry of Production/AFP via Getty Images

Both the UK and the US governments have backed this summit, which is a follow-up to the illegal wildlife trade conference in London last year.

The UK environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, commended the conference. “We need to make sure this wildlife trade doesn’t drive further biodiversity loss and damage fragile ecosystems,” he said.

A US State Department spokesperson said the country was a “leader in the global fight against wildlife trafficking, a serious transnational crime that threatens security, undermines the rule of law, fuels corruption, robs communities of legitimate economic livelihoods, and pushes species to the brink of extinction”.

An executive order signed by President Trump in 2017 “specifically recognised wildlife trafficking as one of four priority areas in efforts to dismantle transnational criminal organisations”, the spokesperson added.

 The illegal trade of living wild, which moves as much money as trafficking in drugs or weapons, continues to grow in America and threatening the survival of millions of species, sold under cruel conditions to collectors , exotic food markets or for exhibitions.

Data from the UN indicate that this modality criminal moves globally about 23 billion dollars annually, a business that particularly affects America by having five of the ten countries with the greatest diversity in the world ( Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru ) and with one of the main buyers in the world (EU).

"The trafficking of wildlife is a global crisis. Be it the traffic of parakeets in Brazil, capuchin monkeys caught in Central America, clown fish stolen from the Pacific Ocean. There are animals all over the world that are suffering from this illegal industry, ” Alicia Aguayo, senior manager of the Peta Latino organization , told Efe .

The Drama of the Birds in America:
Data from the NGO Society for the Conservation of Wildlife (WCS) suggest that birds are the live animals most frequently trafficked in Latin America, "given their high demand in local pet and collector markets."

It is estimated that in Brazil, birds represent 80 % of the total amount of all trafficked animals.

While Peru, one of the countries with the largest number of bird species on the planet, reports a large clandestine local market that especially affects the gold button and the yellow-eared parakeet.
              A green macaw in Limón (Costa Rica). Photo: EFE, Jeffrey Arguedas, archive.
And in Central America it is estimated that the populations of red macaws were reduced to less than 2,000 individuals for the same reason.

“Birds are definitely one of the most trafficked animal groups in the region. Much of the traffic is for the pet trade. Birds are trafficked everywhere: to North America, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and beyond, ” warned Efe Rhett Butler, founder of the Mongabay environmental platform.

The authorities have detected that, after birds, reptiles and amphibians are the most illegally trafficked animal species, all in cruel conditions.

“Traffickers have no interest in the welfare of these animals. For example, a woman traveling to China was found with two birds wrapped in socks, glued to her chest and leg, and a man traveling from Miami to Brazil hid seven small snakes and three small turtles in his clothes, ” Aguayo related.

Óscar López, deputy secretary of Environment of Bogotá, city in which more than 10,000 animals have been rescued in recent years (60 % are birds and 30% reptiles), alerted Efe of the “cruelty” of traffic modalities as parcels, in which animals are sent by courier, inside boxes, film rolls and even bottles.

To this are added the conditions to which the species are subjected once sold. In Colombia a spider monkey, considered one of the 25 most threatened primate species in the world, was captured by criminals in the jungle and trained to eat empanadas and drink soda.

And in Peru, the authorities found a specimen of the Allipacca frog, an endemic species of the country that had not been sighted in 68 years, when it was offered to make a juice in a market in Ayacucho.

How Do They Work?
"This type of traffic is handled by very well organized networks," which end up involving "very poor indigenous or peasant communities that extract animals from their natural environment," Diego Lizcano, biodiversity expert for the northern Andes, told Efe. South Central America of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

“These communities rarely find out that they are part of a larger illegal business. And usually they are the worst paid in the chain, ”he added.

Studies reveal that wild animals could be in danger of extinction because of social networks:
Various organizations have warned that this phenomenon has been strengthened with digital platforms, such as WhatsApp groups, so the Global Coalition to End the Wildlife Trade has been promoted, to which technology giants such as Google and Facebook have been linked.

Last June, for example, some 430 copies of protected species - mostly birds - were rescued in Buenos Aires after their commercialization was detected on Facebook.

A phenomenon that touches all countries:
In Brazil, the country with the largest Amazon rainforest in the region and an unparalleled wealth of wildlife, there is an intense illegal trafficking of animals.

The most illegally traded species in this nation are turtles, small lizards, wild birds, mainly parrots and macaws, snakes, monkeys and mammals such as marsupials and sloths.

A spider monkey while eating a fruit  in the zoo of Cali, Colombia, right.
In neighboring Colombia, another empire of biodiversity, there are 407 threatened species, including the titi cabeciblanco, one of the main victims of illegal trade in the country, where, in 2017 alone 23,605 animals were seized, most of them taken from their habitat to be sold abroad.

Among the most trafficked species in and out of Colombia are the hicotea turtle, the morrocoy turtle, the iguana, the tan parakeet and the common lora.

Ecuador is threatening its birds, reptiles and mammals by this phenomenon. The country also faces a latent risk in the Galapagos archipelago, where a hundred giant land turtles were stolen from a breeding center for endemic chelonians.

It is the same case in Bolivia, where hundreds of species are seized annually, including parrots, lizards, iguanas, turtles, sloths, monkeys and jaguars, the latter of greatest concern over the growing traffic to Asia.

While these nations report a large local clandestine market, countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and Mexico are among the most exporting illegal wildlife.
The final link focuses on Europe, the United States and Asia, where they are sold as souvenirs, food, medicines, for use in the fashion industry, in pet markets and to collectors.

In the case of Mexico, among the species of fauna affected are the yellow-headed parakeet, the red-and-green macaw, the yellow-breasted toucan, the spider monkey, the howler monkey, the red-kneed tarantula, the black iguana and the rattlesnake vipers .

Birds are also the main victims in Central America: In El Salvador the species that suffer the most are parrots, owls, parrots, red macaws and iguanas; in Nicaragua, the red macaw and the yellow nape lora; and in Costa Rica, one of the badges of environmental care, are the barnacle and parakeet pigeons, as well as frogs.

Other nations such as Guatemala see birds, reptiles and mammals at risk; while in Caribbean territories like Puerto Rico the most threatened are exotic animals such as boas, pythons, poisonous snakes, jaguars and ocelots.

Researcher Ada Sánchez explained to Efe that birds, mostly parrots and parakeets, are also the most affected by illegal traffic in Venezuela, followed by reptiles, including sea turtles, boas and the reticulated python.

Actions Before Traffic:
This week the First High Level Conference of the Americas on Illegal Wildlife Trade will be held in Lima, in which the need to share experiences and build alliances for the coordinated prevention and control of this crime will be analyzed.

In advance, most nations have been applying internal measures to combat this practice, in coordination with Interpol.

In the case of Honduras, where more than 20 species are at risk of extinction, a team for the rescue, rehabilitation and release of wildlife was launched, implemented by the Armed Forces.
   Note: My Personal Favorite encounter underwater : Spotted Eagle Rays cruising along with me ! 
They and other species of rays are illegally caught w gill nets and "fake scallops" are stamped out of their wings or traditionally dried and eaten as machaca, as are most rays.

Globally, the most recent action was announced in August with the inclusion of 93 new species in a trade control system, which seeks to prevent the extinction of elephants, giraffes, rhinos, various types of reptiles, rays and the Mako shark.

The 27 mostly Latin American and Caribbean countries at the conference agreed to share intelligence and enforcement and take the crime more seriously. The next meeting was scheduled to be held in Colombia in 2021.

I might add, let us not forget the many human victims of this trade, including the murdering of biologists, zoologists, caretakers and land defenders all over the world, many of which we have posted about here.


  1. Has it been confirmed that el jaguar was killed in madera chihuahua? This is a big one

  2. I remember years ago as a kid growing up near the Toronto,Canada area seeing spider monkeys as pets.The occasional person had 1.Haven't seen any for years though.

  3. People say to legalize drugs to fix the issue. Should we just make this legal too?

    Asking for a friend...

  4. Great article

    Did anyone see the article about the mayor of Tuxtla Gutiérre being attacked and dragged behind a truck for not keeping his campaign promises?

  5. Rafael Caro Quintero used to lkve them back in the 80's , heard a story that they had ordered a pair , taking off from Mier Tamaulipas and managed to escape before getting to Monterrey NL.... back in the day


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