How Eco-Trafficking Operates at Local Peru Markets

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A BBC report on wildlife markets in Peru illustrates how eco-trafficking works at the micro-level and how local and international demand, along with economic desperation, fuel the sale of endangered species.

According to the report, the so-called ecological police in Peru find an average of five or six endangered species for sale every day at local markets such as the one chronicled in Iquitos, along the Colombian and Brazilian borders. These include Amazonian frogs used to prepare a smoothie with purported health benefits — which sells for less than $2 dollars — as well as caiman, deer, and javelina meat. 

Vendors also sell live species to smugglers, collectors and would-be pet owners. On offer are exotic birds, reptiles, frogs, and monkeys (see video below). These animals are often drugged so they can be more easily smuggled out of the country or hidden among shipments of legally exported species. China is the largest market for contraband animals and plants, followed by the United States, according to the BBC.

Given the economic desperation of some vendors, who depend upon animal sales to support their families, and the magnitude of the problem, Peru’s ecological police have had a minimal impact on the trade, according to the BBC. Fines often fail to deter vendors, and police frequently shut down one sales point only to see another open nearby. Although selling or transporting wildlife is illegal in Peru, ecological police told the BBC that in 2014, only seven people were sentenced to jail time for this crime in capital city Lima.

         The Price of Wildlife in Peru and Abroad  
Smoothie made from frogs  Less than $2 in a Peruvian market
 Live frogs  $5 in Peruvian markets near Iquitos
Rare frog species  Up to $100 in international markets 
Matamata turtles Up to $500 in the US
Black-beaked parrots Up to $1,000 in the US
“Bebeleche” monkeys  Up to $5,000 in the US

InSight Crime Analysis

The BBC report illustrates the first link in the eco-trafficking chain: the local markets. As evidenced by the report, this type of economic activity is attractive to vendors because of the profits on offer, the ease with which wild animals can be acquired, and the demand for exotic species on both a local and international level.  

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco-Trafficking

The report also demonstrates the obstacles authorities face in attempting to combat eco-trafficking, which has become a billion-dollar global trade facilitated by transnational criminal networks. According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, an estimated 350 million plants and animals are sold on the black market every year, producing around $19 billion in profits. On a regional level, law enforcement efforts to combat eco-trafficking in Latin America typically take a backseat to concerns about drug trafficking, resulting in a lack of resources and political will to address the problem. In addition, the sheer volume of cargo moving through airports often prevents authorities from being able to detect contraband animal shipments destined for international markets. 

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