By Natalie Southwick
Experts have revealed the extent of illegal wildlife trafficking in Colombia, highlighting an underreported but lucrative income source for criminal organizations, only exceeded by drugs, arms and human trafficking.
About 160 illegally trafficked animals are seized daily in Colombia, reported El Espectador, totaling more than 58,000 per year. The animals are most commonly recovered in the departments of Sucre, Valle del Cauca, Cordoba, Santander and Bolivar, with most species originating from the Amazon, the southern border, the Pacific coast or the eastern plains, reported RCN Radio.
Claudia Brieva, an animal rehabilitation expert at Colombia's National University, said many people believe they are "saving" the animals or want them as pets. Some of the most commonly trafficked animals are turtles, caimans, iguanas, boa constrictors and parrots.
InSight Crime Analysis
According to Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Programme, wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated $15 to 20 billion annually, making it the world's fourth largest illegal trade, after drugs, human trafficking and the arms trade. In 2012 alone, Colombian authorities rescued more than 46,000 illegally trafficked animals. It is far from the only source for the trade: over the last two years a shipment leaving Paraguay contained more than 3,500 animals, while thousands of animals have also been rescued from Bolivia, and Brazil last year launched its own anti-animal trafficking operations.
Despite the trade's enormous earning potential, relatively little is known about organizations behind global wildlife trafficking, due partly to the fact that it does not generate the same high levels of violence as the drug trade and arms or human trafficking.
According to the UN report, the same routes used to move drugs and weapons are often used to smuggle animals. Yet, to some extent, animal trafficking requires a greater deal of sophistication than that of drugs or weapons because of the care required to keep animals alive throughout the journey. This suggests a high level of organization and expertise is involved in the trade.
The market for trafficked wildlife is also not totally understood. Exotic pets may be status symbols or novelty items for some people, but black market demand for products like reptile skins and turtle eggs connects these networks to a larger global consumer market.