Smugglers steal 38 mln animals from Brazil's forests
BRAZIL: November 14, 2001
BRASILIA - Criminals steal an estimated 38 million animals from Brazil's forests each year, the first full report on animal trafficking in the country showed this week.
The report, produced by Brazil's National Network Against the Trafficking of Wild Animals (RENCTAS), estimated that local traffickers of endangered animals earn about $1 billion a year, causing untold losses to the country's natural habitat.
Flavia Morad, a RENCTAS biologist who helped produce the report, said the survey was the first that combines all data on animal trafficking in Brazil, a country with the largest number of animal and plant species in the world.
Apart from the Amazon, the world's largest tropical forest, Brazil's vast Pantanal wetlands are also home to countless animals and plants.
The report said that animal trafficking was the world's third biggest cross-border criminal activity after arms and drugs smuggling, with annual global sales of up to $20 billion.
The survey, which includes detailed maps of traffickers' routes for their live cargoes of everything from rare parrots to deadly snakes, said just 0.45 percent of the total amount of animals smuggled each year are intercepted by police.
"There is the domestic and the foreign market," said Morad. "The foreign market is mainly for rare species."
Prices fetched abroad vary from $60,000 for a rare Lear's Macaw parrot to $20,000 for a poisonous Jararaca snake. According to the report, a Jaguar skin can be bought for $20,000 in the United States.
Parrots and parakeets of all species can be bought throughout Brazil at town fairs and markets, usually taken illegally from their natural habitats. Birds sold locally fetch between $5 to $100, while rare breeds shipped abroad sell for much more.
The government, which received a copy of the report, said it was going to extend to other parts of the country an operation underway in the state of Minas Gerais encouraging consumers not to buy animals at street markets. Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho said the report would be a "working tool" for cracking down on this environmental crime.
A government statement said that rising numbers of smuggled animals being found by police before they are sold indicated that its policies were working to clamp down on the problem. A statement showed the number of animals found had risen to 61,182 in 2000, up from 23,100 in 1998.
But the report warned that the animal smugglers are often involved with other activities such as the drugs trade, indicating they are not just amateur criminals.
It said shipments of animals had even been used by drug smugglers to get their wares past borders. In one case, cocaine was found stuffed into live Boa constrictors being shipped abroad.
Out of an estimated 400 criminal rings smuggling animals, 40 percent were involved in other criminal activities.
Story by Axel Bugge
(Copyright Reuters Limited 2001)