By Christopher Looft
Brazil's Federal Police have conducted operations in conjunction with Interpol to seize hundreds of illegally owned animals, a reminder of the scale of animal trafficking in the country.
Last week, federal police seized over 100 birds in Joao Pessoa, Paraiba state, and hundreds of birds and tortoises in Salvador, Bahia state, both in the northeast. The operation, which also involved Brazil's Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), yielded at least one arrest, a person illegally in possession of over 60 animals.
A Rio Grande do Sul state police operation saw the arrest of four on poaching and weapons charges. In addition to the arrests, authorities seized over 100 dead animals and nine rifles. Another state military police operation in the interior of Bahia state turned up 199 birds, 30 traps, and four arrests.
InSight Crime Analysis Animal trafficking is a serious criminal enterprise. A 2011 investigation by UK newspaper the Independent estimates its scale at over £6 billion a year ($9 billion), outstripped globally only by drug and arms trafficking. Its potential for profit may be driving links to drug traffickers -- a 2001 report (see pdf) by the Brazilian Network to Combat Wild Animal Trafficking (Renctas), a Brasilia-based NGO, noted links between drug and animal traffickers, like the use of animals as drug mules.
The illegal trade in animals and their products is a major problem for Brazil, due to its vast ecological heritage. For example, according to the Independent's report, the world population of a blue Brazilian parrot known as Lear's Macaw has dropped to under 1,000 -- it was selling for $90,000 a head in 2008. Overall, as the R7 news website reported, Brazil authorities estimate that some 12 million wild animals are caught illegally each year in the country: mostly birds, but also monkeys, turtles and jaguars, among others.
Brazil has been making moves to combat illegal trade in its ecological resources; the country has employed unmanned drones to enforce environmental legislation, and President Dilma Rousseff recently vetoed sections of a controversial law that some feared would worsen deforestation and strengthen animal trafficking networks.