Ten trafficked animals are recovered each day at Colombia's busiest airport, marking the extent of this thriving illegal trade, which experts say is being left unchallenged by public indifference.
According to a press release from Colombia's National University, 160 animals were seized in the first 15 days of the year at Bogota's El Dorado Airport, contributing to an average national monthly haul of 1,700 wild animals. Among the most commonly seized animals in 2013 were orange-chinned parakeets, hicotea turtles and white-footed tamarin monkeys, the report said.
As stated in the press release, a group of investigators from the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Zoology at the National University has said the illegal trade is facilitated by the public's lack of knowledge about the importance of indigenous species.
Mario Delgado, a member of the investigation team, said, "A large percentage of people know someone who has had (including themselves) wild animals, but if you ask them if they would take a wild animal from its habitat they all say no." Delgado said this contradictory way of thinking makes it difficult to create a consciousness about the severity of the problem.
The majority of trafficked animals are captured in the departments of Caqueta, Choco, Arauca, and Putumayo, and then taken to Bogota. Many animals, however, die during transport due to poor conditions, mistreatment, and stress, with only one in ten animals surviving the journey. According to the report, some of the largest international markets for the animals are Spain, France, the United States and Canada.
The investigation also found that animal trafficking is not limited to living animals, with dead and stuffed animals, as well as meat, skin, and bones, commonly trafficked.
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Despite strict legislation protecting wildlife in Colombia, the volume of animals being illegally trafficked is huge, suggesting a failure to effectively enforce the law and pursue those engaged in the trade. According to a recent report, Colombian authorities confiscate over 58,000 animals annually -- representing a small fraction of the total number being trafficked. That nine out of ten animals die during transit only reveals how extremely lucrative the industry is.
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Colombia itself represents the largest market for its native wild animals, with a strong local demand for exotic pets and food items. However, the trade becomes far more profitable when the animals are sold on the international market, fetching up to 100 times their price at the place of origin.
The global illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $10 to $20 billion per year, with the university report suggesting it is the third most lucrative illegal trade to international organized crime, after drugs and arms.