The jaguar, the largest cat in the Americas, is the emblem of a new initiative to combat the illegal trade in the continent’s wild animals. The iconic but threatened predator has a key role in the ecosystem but also tremendous cultural significance for the peoples of the Americas.
Little attention has been focused on the Americas until now, when the Peruvian capital, Lima, hosted its first-ever high-level conference on the illegal wildlife trade, as CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports.
Wildlife trafficking is one of the world’s most lucrative organized crimes which the global police force network Interpol estimates has an annual value of around $20 billion each year.
Latin America has 40 percent of the planet’s biodiversity; that’s the largest number of plant and animal species anywhere, but this is its first-ever conference to combat the illegal wildlife trade and the mega biodiverse host country, Peru, wants to lead the way.
Wildlife trafficking is on the rise but so too are efforts to fight it, says the head of Peru’s forestry and wildlife service, Luis Alberto Gonzales-Zuñiga.
“We aspire to be a leader in the region. We aspire to contribute with our experience in the fight against this crime, and, of course, we aspire to learn from other countries in the region and the world,” he said.
Wildlife trafficking is the fourth most lucrative criminal enterprise after drugs, guns, and human trafficking, but the international police force Interpol says it’s often not taken seriously enough in source countries.
Salvador Ortega, Interpol’s head of Forest Crime for Latin America, said, “Every country has different judicial systems which often obstruct or make difficult the interchange of operative information which is necessary to combat what is fundamentally a transnational crime.”
Poverty often drives the sale of live wild animals from countries like Peru, as CGTN has reported. But it’s estimated nine out of ten animals die in transit.
In this illicit trade, East Asia, particularly China, is a major destination for wildlife parts. China has increased its enforcement against the crime, says Li Lishu, China Program Manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“In recent years China’s government is taking serious actions to combat the illegal wildlife trade and wildlife crime and we have seen enforcement agencies have much higher willingness to invest enforcement resources.”
Corruption in all its forms is the biggest obstacle to breaking the trafficking chain, but the 27 mostly Latin American and Caribbean countries at the conference vowed to share intelligence and enforcement and take the crime more seriously.
Attendees agreed that education is also crucial to ensure future generations leave wild animals where they belong, in the wild.