Fighting the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Colombian NGOs Step Up

Amidst the shadow of illegal mining looms another dark enterprise: wildlife trafficking. While not as lucrative as illegal mining, wildlife trafficking remains a multimillion-dollar shadow market plaguing Colombia.

Every day, diverse creatures like birds, reptiles, amphibians and even primates are ripped away from their rightful homes in the Colombian Amazon, destined for a cruel fate.

From exotic pets in urban markets to laboratory subjects and even sloths, known for their languid charm are forced to participate involuntarily in fleeting tourist selfies, their suffering fuelling a transnational crime syndicate.

A legion of other beings are hunted for various purposes including religious ceremonies or the whims of the fashion world.

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These creatures, once free, face confinement in domestic markets or long journeys to foreign lands. Despite its widespread reach, wildlife trafficking often gets overshadowed by other pressing issues like drug cartels.

As Fernando Trujillo, Scientific Director at the Omacha Foundation aptly states, “Judges prioritize jailing individuals for drug or mining offenses over someone carrying a parrot in their purse.”
This lack of attention creates fertile ground for illegal activities, placing Colombia’s immense biodiversity (boasting over 50,000 species) at immense risk.

In the battle against this ecological plunder, Colombian NGOs stand as valiant guardians.

The Amazon region, a treasure trove of life, has become a hotbed for trafficking despite international protection measures like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A recent report by Semana Sostenible, in collaboration with the Humboldt Institute, reveals the top ten most trafficked species in Colombia, a heartbreaking list including the Hicotea turtle, the Red-footed tortoise and the Green iguana, all pillaged from Colombia’s verdant heartland.
These are just a few unfortunate victims of this ruthless trade.

Beyond these iconic species, others face similar perils. The Mata-Mata Tortoise found near the Amazon and Llanos Orientales region, suffers mass trafficking from Vichada to the markets of the Amazonian Tri-Border area. This symbolizes the clandestine journey of many trafficked species.

The lack of robust border control allows for easy smuggling into Peru, where demand is high.

Even the aquatic world is not spared. Ornamental fish with mesmerizing colors and unique shapes, coveted by international aquarists, are illegally smuggled through the Tri-Border zone.

Here, at the fringes of legality, traffickers exploit these porous borders, smuggling prized specimens like the zebra pleco (catfish) and the Xingu River Ray from Brazil into Colombia.

Meanwhile, indigenous communities, reliant on wild species for medicinal purposes, inadvertently fuel local trafficking networks, further depleting biodiversity. In this fragile ecosystem, NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund strive to stem the tide of extinction, confronting a harsh reality that in Colombia alone, 407 species teeter on the brink of annihilation, victims of human greed and exploitation.

Colombia’s Amazon also faces a unique challenge: the tradition of using native wildlife for medicinal purposes. While deeply ingrained in local communities, this practice inadvertently fuels opportunistic, small-scale trafficking. This widespread issue, though seemingly harmless, contributes significantly to the steady decline of biodiversity.

However, amidst this bleak scenario, a beacon of hope shines – Colombian NGOs are actively fighting back. Organizations like the Omacha Foundation, alongside others like the Wildlife Conservation Society and ProAves, are stepping up their efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. They employ various strategies, including:

  • Raising awareness: Educating local communities about the devastating consequences of wildlife trafficking and promoting sustainable alternatives.
  • Supporting law enforcement: Collaborating with authorities to strengthen anti-trafficking measures, improve border security and build capacity for investigation and prosecution.
  • Promoting legal frameworks: Advocating for stricter laws and harsher penalties to deter traffickers and hold them accountable.
  • Supporting alternative livelihoods: Providing local communities with sustainable income opportunities to reduce dependence on wildlife as a source of income.

These dedicated organizations rely on public support to sustain their vital work. By volunteering, donating, or simply spreading awareness, you can join the fight and help ensure a future where Colombia’s diverse wildlife thrives, not suffers.

Remember, every action, however small, can make a critical difference in this crucial battle for the survival of these magnificent creatures.

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