(Photo: Julian Castro)

Animal trafficking is now the fourth-largest illegal industry in Colombia, after drugs, guns and human trafficking, reported RCN Radio on Tuesday.

The industry, based primarily on the trade of live monkeys, turtles and reptiles, is now worth $17 million each year, according to the Rescue and Rehabilitation of Wild Animals Unit (URRAS), a Colombian NGO.

Last year alone, Colombian authorities rescued a reported 46,000 illegally trafficked animals.

URRAS director Claudia Brevia explains that the industry is diverse. Parrots, macaws and monkeys are the most vulnerable animals in the live trade. Deer, tapir and peccaries, meanwhile, are poached for their meat, while alligators and caimans hides are valuable trade commodities, and iguana and turtle populations are pillaged for their eggs.

“The main problem of wildlife trafficking in the country is that there is [domestic] demand.  On many occasions, the people buying the animal believe they are rescuing or helping those animals.”

“Meanwhile the animal traffickers make money, the habitat disappears and so do the species.”

Brevia said trafficking is a problem across Colombia, from the sub-tropical pacific coast, to the Andean mountains, to the eastern plains and the Amazon River Basin.

Links to Drugs

Worldwide illegal animal sales bring in some $20 billion a year, according to Interpol estimates, making it the third largest illicit trade in the world after drug and weapons.

According to crime analysis site Insight Crime, the same routes used by drug smugglers transporting narcotics to the U.S. and Europe are also frequented by Colombia’s animal traffickers.

Drug traffickers supplement their profits by taxing animal smugglers in exchange for using the same smuggling routes, and may even use the animals to help hide narcotics shipments.

A Diverse Burden

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth according to the International Convention on Biological Diversity.  Unfortunately this natural richness lends itself to large profits in illicit animal trafficking.

One in seven of all species on Earth can be found within the country, including 467 different types of mammals, 1,768 birds, 609 amphibians and 475 reptiles.


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