By Marguerite Cawley
An illegal Florida-bound shipment of some 3,500 animals has been returned to Paraguay, in a case that highlights the scale of animal trafficking in the region.
The shipment, intercepted by authorities at the Miami airport on February 25, consisted mainly of tarantulas, frogs, toads and snakes, with an estimated worth of between $200,000 and $450,000, reported La Nacion.
When the shipment arrived in Paraguay on March 6, authorities found that over 200 animals had died on the journey, according to ABC.
Traffickers had apparently created false documentation with the goal of bringing the animals to a Florida reptile store to be resold as "exotic" pets. The identity of the traffickers has not been revealed, but the scheme is believed to have involved both Paraguayan nationals and foreigners.
InSight Crime Analysis
Paraguay's Environment Ministry (Seam) has expressed concerns over the commercial sale of wildlife. In March 2012 the government body held a conference that aimed to discourage the trade in wild animals, particularly those in danger of extinction.
Paraguayan wildlife is also illegally transported to nearby countries -- investigations in a 2012 animal trafficking case in Uruguay found that animals had been brought from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and sold to individuals or zoos.
The smuggling of wildlife is an issue across the region. In Brazil hundreds of illegally trafficked birds and turtles were seized in June 2012, while in Colombia over 46,000 captured animals were rescued in 2012. Sometimes the animals come from further afield, as in the case of two Bengal tigers recently found at a south Mexican property, which also featured a methamphetamine lab.
The highly profitable global enterprise, estimated to bring in between $10 billion and $20 billion a year by international police body Interpol, poses a particular problem for countries in Latin America with high biodiversity.