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Cartagena Fighting Reputation as Colombia's Biodiversity Marketplace

COLOMBIA / 21 APR 2022 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON EN

Turtles, iguanas and parrots are being trafficked through Colombia's port of Cartagena, despite the city taking some steps to fight back against the trade.

In early April, Cartagena's environmental authority carried out a series of operations seizing illegally sourced animals throughout the city. A number of snakes, crocodiles and exotic birds were retrieved, as well as dozens of pieces of jewelry adorned with parts from endangered marine life, including sharks and sea turtles.

Earlier in March, seizures of parrots, monkeys and a shipment of turtle meat demonstrated the continued diversity of options consumers can select from in Cartagena’s illicit markets.

SEE ALSO: Wildlife Under Threat: Traffickers Target Colombia's Vital Fauna

Along with Bogotá, the city is a top destination for illegally trafficked wildlife tapping into Colombia’s megadiverse ecosystems.

Birds and reptiles remain the hottest commodities in Cartagena. Specifically, hicotea turtles and songbirds seem to be particularly sought after, both repeatedly cropping up in seizures. The former are prized for their meat while the latter sell as expensive pets for international consumers.

Such seizures could foreshadow an uptick in the city’s well-established importance as a regional hub for the trade. Last year’s entire haul amounted to over 700 seized animals in Cartagena, according to Caracol.

In January, a National Geographic investigation also pointed to Cartagena as an exit point for Colombia's growing illegal trade in sloths.

The city’s location on the Caribbean coast, being one of the largest ports in the country and having a constant flow of tourists make it a useful operating scene for illegal traffickers and buyers.

The Bazurto Market especially sees regular seizures of illegally sourced fauna. The famed market is a tourist spot and sees traffickers bringing exotic birds, turtle meat and artisanal crafts made from protected species.

InSight Crime Analysis

Acting as a nexus between tourism, international trade and Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena has for decades hosted a booming illegal wildlife trade. However, it has taken a number of steps to turn the situation around.

In early April, Cartagena hosted the Second High-Level Conference of the Americas on Illegal Trade in Wildlife. The two-day conference sought to energize the private sector towards combatting the environmentally destructive trade.

One notable result was the Coastal Airport Society’s pledge of zero tolerance moving forward for the transport of wildlife. This brought both the Cartagena and Medellín airports into the mix of players working to lower Colombia’s outbound wildlife trade.

SEE ALSO: A Roaring Trade: Wildlife Trafficking in Colombia's Amazon

Curbing the trade has been an elusive goal for law enforcement, but it does remain a priority.

Beyond punitive measures, the city maintains a rehabilitation center evaluating and sheltering live animals that are rescued from the black market for eventual release into the wild, if possible.

The Wildlife Care and Valuation Center received 2,140 specimens in 2021 and early 2022 Birds make up the largest proportion but currently, the influx of reptiles and mammals in the center is set to outpace last year's numbers.

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