June 16, 2019
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Ecuador waging implacable fight against wildlife trafficking

By Maria Gracia Lopez and Evelyn Vera

Puyo, Ecuador, Jun 9 (efe-epa).- Ecuador, one of the world's most mega-diverse countries, is waging a war on the illegal trafficking and capturing of wild animals, a long-term problem aggravated by the lack of measures to fight against the practice.

The problem affects all wildlife - both flora and fauna - on the planet, which are protected by strict laws that stipulate that the animals "have rights."

Laws, however, don't scare off traffickers, scientists of doubtful reputation, lovers of exotic pets or all sorts of imprudent people who - for instance - take home an insect as a souvenir.

"The problem of species trafficking is great despite the efforts in recent years. Each year, we're finding animals that are victims of internal trafficking that are taken to homes and some in biological collections that are taken out of Ecuador," Lucia Luge, a wildlife analyst with the Environment Ministry, told EFE.

One of the ministry's goals has been to detect the scope and routes for such crimes, which in 2018 led to the seizure of some 3,000 animals of different kinds, including some in danger of extinction.

Ecuadorian law includes punishments of up to three years in prison and fines of up to $4,000 for removing wildlife from its natural habitat, and that does not take into account compensation for ecological damage.

For example, in March a citizen was fined $3,940 for illegal possession of a "guatusa," a type of rodent, and a giant charapa turtle, and a Japanese biologist was sentenced to two years behind bars for trying to remove via the Quito airport 250 insects and spiders, ostensibly to be used for scientific study.

In addition, in May two guards at the Galapagos nature park were brought to trial for stealing 123 baby sea turtles.

Wildlife trafficking has many facets, with the worst offenders being professional traffickers who intend to sell the creatures and cause growing damage due to the changes their removal creates in the ecosystem.

"It's the same dynamic as in weapons and drug trafficking. They're using Ecuador as a (key source) of wild animals," said Pedro Gualoto, a wildlife expert at the Environment Ministry.

In the international market, a guacamayo - a large multi-colored parrot - can cost between $1,000 and $5,000, he told EFE.

The trafficking of wildlife, in all its forms, is a "business" that brings in $10 billion to $26 billion per year, according to international studies, and is the third-biggest type of trafficking, after weapons and drugs.

The most-trafficked types of animals from Ecuador are birds, especially parrots, reptiles and mammals.

The reptiles popular with traffickers and their customers are boa constrictors and caimans - largely for their hides or as food.

And the mammals that are most frequently captured and sold on the international market include several types of rodents.

In recent years, the fight against wildlife trafficking has included opening centers - such as the Yanacocha center, which works closely with the Environment Ministry - where animals that are rescued from traffickers can be treated for malnutrition, mutilation and even psychological problems.

The government is also pursuing national campaigns to raise public awareness about the damage wildlife trafficking does.

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