Chunks of meat from huge lizards that still have their scales, pairs of tropical birds in cages and large live turtles can be found easily in the crowded Iquitos market, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, a sign of how normalized illegal wildlife trade is in the world .
«The Amazon region of Peru is a source of extraction of animals that reach the coast and the Andean zone and abroad. There is an existing demand and precisely from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) the strategy we have is to be able to make efforts so that authorities increase detection, “the specialist in the initiative and work on species trafficking of the organization Rosa, told EFE.
Daily commercialization of wild species
The commercialization of both live and dead species of wild fauna influences the loss of biodiversity, but, like any illegal traffic, it is a problem with many sides that include administrative and legislative spheres.
There is also a health affairs front, knowledge of ancestral customs, as well as international cooperation and customs, come into play.
In the middle of the jungle, from his office in the Regional Government of Loreto, the coordinator of the Functional Unit of the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (Serfor), Paul Aróstegui, tells EFE that part of the traffic sails in boats to Brazil or Colombia by the infinite and porous Amazon borders.
But the greatest traffic occurs on the coast of Lima, that is, it travels kilometers by river from remote points in the Amazon, where there is not even land access, to towns in the interior of the country where there are already highways.
From the Peruvian capital, the animals normally re-embark in the port of Callao heading to other continents. “The coast is the strong market, and from the coast to the world,” said Aróstegui.
Two turtles in the market of Iquitos (Peru). EFE / Paula Bayarte Dos tortugas en el mercado de Iquitos (Perú). EFE/ Paula Bayarte
customs and myths
The experts consulted explain that, on the one hand, there is an illegal trade in live species that are traded for alleged benefits, beliefs or their use in rites. On the other hand, the meat of certain animals is consumed by communities, but its sale is not sustainable and can be dangerous to health.
The traffic is also due to the great demand, especially from Asian countries that buy large quantities of reptiles, whose trade is sometimes illegal.
The national and international market for exotic pets, fangs, shells and skins also survives.
“Para la olla!”(For the cooking pot!) shouted a vendor at the Belén de Iquitos market when asked if the large live turtles turned upside down were to become pets or to eat.
Among vegetables, toys or cleaning products, there are pieces of lizards, deer, rodents such as the common guagua or paca, or peccary and peccary (mammals similar to wild boars), which are the animal meats with the greatest demand in the populations of the Peruvian Amazon.
Sometimes, the trafficking of species is linked to customs and myths that are born in communities and that later, both due to the subsequent migration of its inhabitants to other cities and to legends that spread, cause the animals to be the object of mafias.
Vento explained that, for example, the Titicaca frog, native to the lake of the same name, is illegally traded in Lima, Arequipa and Tacna.
“Healing properties are attributed to it, such as the recovery of sexual vigor, it heals asthma and bronchial problems, or it increases the proportion of iron, but none of these properties have been confirmed, it is only known that, given its high pathogenicity in its content, it causes intestinal problems,” said the specialist regarding this critically endangered frog.
Driver of emerging diseases
A few parakeets for sale in the market of Iquitos (Peru). EFE / Paula Bayarte
To fight against this illegal business, Aróstegui points out that coordination with neighboring countries is essential, especially with Brazil and Colombia.
“Wildlife trafficking could be working as a driver of emerging diseases in new regions with susceptible human and animal populations. Peru needs to develop coordinated planning between various sectors involved in the prevention, inspection and control of wildlife trafficking in order to combat it”, reads the 2017-2027 national strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation of Peru.
Vento explains that both in Peru and in countries in the region there is a common “postponement” of the importance of wildlife conservation, which is reflected in the budget that the State allocates to the Ministry of the Environment.
“It is important that authorities understand the strong link between conservation of wildlife and the future generations.
Biodiversity is a provider of food, of ecosystem services, of the quality of clean air, of the conservation of the oceans and of the forests”, he indicated.
In any case, he considers it impossible to combat the trafficking of species if there is not an informed civil society aware of both the importance of preserving the environment, as well as crimes and infractions against wildlife.