By Emilio Godoy
Turtles, frogs, toads and many kinds of birds are imported into Mexico as pets by the thousands every year, but they constitute an environmental and economic threat when they are invasive exotic species.
Since April a reform of the General Law on Wildlife has prohibited imports of such species, but in practice Mexico continues to allow these animals to enter the country. Pet shops rely on them for their lucrative trade. “The only way to combat invasive species is to effectively ban their sale, because eradication would cost millions of dollars,” María Elena Sánchez, head of the environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) Teyeliz, told IPS. “This kind of import ban works very well. And it is necessary for national security and food security.”
Invasive species are animals, plants or other organisms introduced by human beings into alien habitats, where they establish themselves and spread causing damage. Typically they have great powers of adaptation and reproduction.
Since the mid-1990s, when markets were opened to foreign trade, Mexico has become a big importer of birds, amphibians and reptiles. Between 2005 and 2010, import permits were granted to bring in some 960,000 wild birds. In 2009 alone, over 239,000 birds were imported from abroad.
“It’s an alarming phenomenon. Mexico has become an importer of exotic wildlife species. The growth of imports has been absolutely exponential. Prices are accessible, and wider distribution has enlarged the market,” Juan Carlos Cantú, head of Mexico programmes for Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington-based NGO, told IPS.
The state National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) has identified at least 800 invasive species in the country, including more than 600 plant species. The rest are fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. One of the environmental organisations’ concerns is the monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus), a native of southern South America, which is regarded as highly invasive and an agricultural pest. Between 2005 and 2010, some 126,260 of these parakeets were imported.
These wild parrots make communal nests in the angles of house roofs or on electricity cables in streets. After reproducing in great numbers, they wreak havoc on maize and sorghum plantations or fruit tree orchards. Environmentalists have documented their presence in the wild in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
In Mexico, approximately 10 million reptiles and amphibians, most of them turtles, are purchased abroad every year for the pet market. There is a risk they may carry diseases harmful to human health, or to that of local wildlife, according to ecologists.
Experts have noted a fungus in pet frogs and toads which causes chytridiomycosis, an infection of the skin in amphibians that is transmitted through water. More....