Authorities in Ecuador have rescued around 8,000 animals from eco-traffickers in the last decade, a number that likely represents just a fraction of a trade threatening the fauna in one of the world's most biodiverse countries.
Between 2003 and 2013 (although 2010 is excluded because records are unavailable for that year) the Environmental Ministry rescued 7,883 animals from traffickers, reported La Hora.
The most commonly trafficked animals were reptiles, accounting for 3,808 of the rescued animals, followed by mammals and birds.
The trade is ranked as one of the principal threats to the 182 species this ministry classifies as "vulnerable," the 118 listed as endangered and the 68 as critically endangered.
Animal trafficking, along with other types of eco-trafficking such as the illegal timber trade, was recently included as a crime in Ecuador's reformed penal code.
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Although it is one of the smallest countries in South America, Ecuador has one of the largest number of animal species in the world, so it is unsurprising it should attract the attention of animal traffickers.
The animals rescued by authorities are likely just a fraction of those being trafficked, especially since the figure will not take into account the many animals that die in transit.
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The trade is common around the region, and is a particular issue in countries including Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Ecuador's neighbor Colombia also has a thriving trade, with around 58,000 animals rescued in the country every year.
Many animals are sold on the domestic market, where the profits are low and criminal operations are unsophisticated. However, if the animals are trafficked abroad, they can fetch high prices, making the international trade attractive to criminals better equipped to evade border security checks and keep animals alive during long journeys.
Globally, the profits on offer from animal trafficking are huge. According to international police force Interpol's estimates the business is worth between $15 billion and $20 billion a year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade after drugs, human trafficking and arms trafficking.