September 20, 2019
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Colombia, victim of lucrative exotic animal smuggling

By Claudia Polanco Yermanos

Bogota, Aug 19 (efe-epa).- The case of a spider monkey that, after being captured in the Colombian jungles, was trained to eat "empanadas" (meat pies) and drink soda water, despite being a member of one of the world's 25 most-endangered species, demonstrates the dreadful consequences of the extraordinarily lucrative business in Colombia of illegally trafficking in exotic animals.

According to the United Nations, animal trafficking is the third most profitable illegal activity on the planet with revenues of up to $26 billion per year, exceeded only by drug trafficking and people smuggling.

In Colombia - where many citizens ignore the fact that there are 54,871 registered species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms, making it the world's second most biodiverse nation - the situation is of significant concern.

Figures compiled by the Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry indicate that in 2017 a total of 23,605 animals were seized by authorities after they had been removed from their habitats to be sold abroad.

On the list of the 10 most trafficked Colombian species both inside and outside the country are Slider Turtles (Trachemys callirostris), Morrocoy Turtles (Chelonoides carbonaria), iguanas, orange-chinned parakeets (Brotogeris jugularis) and the yellow-crowned parrot (Amazona ochrocephala).

Also on the list are the blue-headed parrot (Pionus menstruus), the red-tailed squirrel (Notosciurus granatensis), the white-footed tamarin (Saguinus leucopus), the white-fronted capuchin (Cebus albifrons) and poison dart frogs of the genus Dendrobatidae.

Just in Bogota between January and July 2019 "35 operations ... (against) the trafficking of wild animals have been conducted in which 382 animals have been recovered," the deputy secretary of the environment, Oscar Lopez, told EFE.

Official figures show that between Jan. 1, 2016, and today more than 10,000 wild animals have been recovered by authorities in the capital.

Among them were 32 saffron finches (Sicalis flaveola) that, after being captured and placed in cages, were forced to participate in a singing contest promoted on Facebook.

That operation, which was undertaken in July at a bird club in Bogota, "was very striking, since it involved a custom deeply rooted not only in Colombia but in Venezuela and showed our lack of interest as human beings for other living creatures that we deprive of freedom and wellbeing just for our own pleasure," Lopez said.

Two years ago, a case came to light in which an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) - a species in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature - was found malnourished in a Bogota residence.

After authorities intervened, the feline was nursed back to health - to ensure that it regained the ability to hunt for itself in the wild - over a period of 20 months in wildlife centers in Bogota and the town of Victoria in central Caldas province.

Ultimately, in May the ocelot was released into the Bojonawi Nature Preserve in Colombia's eastern jungle region, to where it was transported by air and where will be monitored via satellite for at least a year.

Not all of the 6,700 animals that have been cared for at the capital's Wildlife Center since October 2017 are as lucky, since "some arrive in very bad shape, with dehydration, stress and malnutrition due to extreme conditions of captivity and trafficking, since they are put into suitcases, cardboard boxes or plastic tubes," the director of the Animal Protection and Wellbeing Institute for the Bogota District, Clara Lucia Sandoval, told EFE.

Although authorities aim to return all the animals to their natural habitats after they are seized, mainly at the El Dorado International Airport or at land transportation terminals, sometimes they have been so severely affected by their ordeals that they either die or can never be returned to the wild.

Trafficking in wildlife and endangered species goes on in Colombia despite the fact that, if caught, perpetrators could be subject to fines of up to 3.6 billion pesos ($1 million) and imprisoned for up to nine years.

Sandoval says that "Animal trafficking is not only a crime but also an act of horrible cruelty due to the way the species are captured and treated and because probably they will never be able to return to their homes, thus failing to reproduce and putting Colombia's much-admired biodiversity at risk."

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