Species in Colombia are being trafficked to be held as pets, for consumption and their commercialization outside the country. So far, in 2016 20,415 animals have been trafficked, according to figures from Colombian authorities.
Magdalena, Sucre, Bolívar, Cesar and Córdoba are the top regions where the traffic occurs. Only in them 11,197 animals from 5 species have been extracted from their habitats in the year. These species are: Hicotea (Trachemys callirostris), Iguana (Iguana iguana), Caiman (Caiman crocodylus fuscus), Canaries (Serinus canaria) and Turtle (Chelonoidis carbonaria).
According to Luz Amparo Pinto, top researcher from GIDAR, a research group that focuses on crimes against the environment, the methods used by criminals are diverse. “They use couriers, expanded polystyrene boxes, and plastic bottles to hide the animals and pass all police controls,” she told Mongabay Latam.
The methods are cruel and kill most of the animals. According to GIDAR figures only 1 in 10 trafficked animals reach their final destination. More so, Colombia lacks control and monitoring mechanisms to identify wildlife which makes it easier for traffickers to “pass without any suspicion,” stated Pinto.
People carrying the animals while hiding them is one of the most used techniques. It was used by “Los pajareros” a criminal network that trafficked birds from Tolima and Cundinamarca outside the country.
“They tied up sedated small animals, like birds, with masking tape around their body to travel to other countries,” said Pinto. Networks like this one can earn between 80 to 140 million Colombian pesos (25,000-47,000 dollars) per year, according to GIDAR figures.
Although the network was dismantled in July its members didn’t pay any time in jail. Most of the detainees for wildlife traffic in Colombia are released because their sentences don’t surpass the time stipulated by the law to go to prison (48-108 months).
Regarding iguanas and turtles, there have been more than 48,000 operatives in the country in the last two years. Egg’s extraction for sale and meat consumption are the main causes of their trafficking.
Hicotea hunters chose two seasons to hunt adult females, from December to May and from July to August which coincide with their laying season in which hicoteas are more vulnerable. Their commercialization is linked to Easter traditions when people prefer to eat white meats.
Also, in February Colombian Police detained in February a group which pretended to traffic more than 50,000 iguana eggs. Iguana eggs are considered a delicacy in northern Colombia and these eggs were destined to arrive to Cartagena.
Other police figures confirm that in 2016 6,878 hicoteas have been confiscated along with 1,505 iguanas and more than 80,000 of their eggs, 1,144 turtles and 2,837 caimans. More so up to 5,060 people have been detained.
Wildlife traffic also includes the commercialization of animal skin, organs and parts. To identify this kind of crimes the Colombian Police created the first Latin American laboratory for genetic forensic identification of wildlife in the region. The lab is still in a validation stage for its mechanisms but has already taken big steps.
Researchers were able to identify fish bladders that were being trafficked to Hong Kong and China. Fish bladders are consider as an aphrodisiac delicacy and according to Greenpeace they are sold between for 60,000 to 600,000 dollars per unit.
Although this investigation wasn’t useful for the sentence of the people involved it was a first successful trial for the lab. Nonetheless this information and all the other lab functionalities will be useful in the tackling of illegal wildlife traffic in the country.
María Andrea Márquez