HomeNewsParrots, Toucans and Monkeys Delivered Across Mexico
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Parrots, Toucans and Monkeys Delivered Across Mexico

COVID AND CRIME / 4 MAR 2021 BY DULCE OLVERA* EN

Illegally buying endangered species via social media has grown increasingly convenient in Mexico, especially given its feeble environmental controls and increased online commerce during the pandemic.

A SinEmbargo investigation was able to find a number of protected species, even some at risk of extinction, for sale on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, including spider monkeys, howler monkeys, yellow-headed parrots, orange-fronted parakeets, red macaws, keel-billed toucans and various species of raccoons. Anyone wanting one of these animals merely has to ask.

Environmental organizations stated that this online criminal economy has been able to thrive due to Mexico’s Federal Agency for Environmental Protection (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente – PROFEPA) being overwhelmed.

*This investigation was carried out by SinEmbargo. It has been edited for clarity and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. Read the original in Spanish here.

On WhatsApp, for example, a buyer in central Mexico who had received several Australian parakeets had joined a number of chats about bird trafficking asking advice on how to feed them.

Although these parakeets were fitted with rings indicating they were legally sold, the sale or possession of any type of macaw, parrot or parakeet under ten years of age has been prohibited in Mexico since 2008.

Yellow-headed parrots, a bird in danger of extinction, are in high demand due to their ability to “talk.” Photo: WhatsApp. SinEmbargo.

A member of the “Pericos y Loros” (Parakeets and Parrots) chat said he had recently sold two raccoons for about $145.00. “They do not have papers. They do not come with papers,” wrote the trafficker in the chat, to which SinEmbargo had access.

The Tres Marías raccoon and the Cozumel raccoon are both listed as endangered in Mexican norm NOM-059, which lists 535 species at risk of extinction, 912 endangered species and 1,183 species subject to special protections.

SEE ALSO: Mexico City’s Roaring Trade in Wildlife Trafficking

In a different chat, another individual offered a spider monkey for around $821 and a mantled howler monkey for around $362, both listed as endangered species. But the seller specified that he was only offering to wholesalers.

Trafficking or owning any at-risk species can carry a sentence of up to nine years in prison, according to Article 420 of the Federal Criminal Code.

The sale of green and red macaws, which are at risk of extinction, has been prohibited since 2008. Photo: WhatsApp. SinEmbargo.

Another WhatsApp user asked if anyone was selling a Bengal or white tiger in Mexico City. Others asked about red macaws or tropical screech owls. “

In another chat, named “Aves TODO MEXICO” (Birds ALL MEXICO), a user from Guadalajara offered a yellow-headed parrot, a bird in danger of extinction and in high demand for being able to “talk,” for around $338.

Some organizers have taken precautions. One chat that SinEmbargo joined was named “Sale of all types of birds” was only accessible on invitation and had a setting whereby all messages disappeared seven days after being sent.

A Global Blight

Since 2018, organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have coordinated the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking on the Internet, made up of international businesses like Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Google, Pinterest and Microsoft, among 34 member companies.

By the start of the pandemic in March 2020, these members had deleted or blocked over 3.35 million listings selling endangered species on their platforms, especially in Asia.

“Platforms like Facebook or Mercado Libre are offering wildlife products or wildlife derivatives much more openly without any restrictions or secrets. A five-minute search brings up various advertisements for reptiles, exotic birds and small mammals, which has been greatly exacerbated by COVID-19. The Internet is becoming one of the main avenues to connect clients with wildlife.” said Renata Cao of WWF Mexico.

Buyers hardly need advanced detection skills to quickly find the animals on widely used platforms. But the Coalition indicates that steps are taken to protect the anonymity of buyers and sellers, including continuously changing username, offline chats and covert VPNs.

Orange-fronted parakeets are subject to special protection under NOM-059. Photo: Facebook group created in April 2015. SinEmbargo.

Facebook and Instagram have both prohibited the sale of all live animals and animal products, encouraged users to report such activity and have launched a method of tracking banned species being sold in real-time. Instagram also created a warning hashtag in 2017 that educates users about the illegal wildlife trade when they search for one of the more than 250 terms associated with trafficking.

But there is still an abundance of animal trafficking pages. Last October, a Facebook user reported the page “Exotic Animals Mexico,” a page selling endangered species at risk of extinction. The profile was eliminated. But the group returned under the same name on January 21, SinEmbargo found.

Since then, animals for sale have included a kangaroo, a wolf, a black panther, a puma, red foxes, lions, tigers and spider monkeys. Most are these are babies. Smugglers make the shipments from airports across the country and claim that the animals have “legal documents.”

Instagram is facing a similar situation. In a video shared on the platform, two endangered baby spider monkeys can be seen eating fruit inside a blue cage. The accompanying message states, “Spider Monkeys. Shipments across Mexico. Delivered with legal documents.”

Like the howler monkey, the spider monkey is at risk of extinction. Photo: Instagram. SinEmbargo.
The sale or possession of any species within the macaw, parrot or parakeet family has been prohibited in Mexico sine 2008, unless the bird is older than 10 years old. Photo: Instagram. SinEmbargo.

Other videos on Instagram show a puma, a coyote drinking milk from a bottle and a baby wolf howling.

PROFEPA Overwhelmed

Renata Cao, a biologist specialized in environmental management and WWF’s Latin America lead for wildlife trafficking, has stated that Mexican law recognizes the use of wildlife and flora and fauna resources by indigenous peoples.

“We support the use of wildlife when it is sustainable and does not put the population’s survival at risk,” she said. However, she also added that wildlife trafficking is punishable, should the species be included in any risk category. “The problem is that the legal authorities do not give any importance to the issue. For this reason, it has become a big business, generating profits with a low risk of being sanctioned. They issue very small fines or a short time in prison before they are let out on bail,” said Cao.

SEE ALSO: The Jaguar King Who Founded Honduras’ Little French Key Zoo

Many owners of such wild animals also eventually abandon them due to a lack of space or budget, leaving them at zoos or at PROFEPA offices, according to Mexican wildlife organization.

Between January 2020 and January 2021, following citizen reports or owners not having the right documentation, PROFEPA staff rescued a huge numbers of endangered species, including parrots, ocelots, toucans and turtles, as shown in the map below. On November 26 alone, more than 15,000 wildlife specimens, including endangered species, were discovered at two homes in Iztapalapa, Mexico City.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1xyK2J-0fg9qGNy-K1xdfrtyuLAXzxvCR&ll=23.753822039072173%2C-102.23741775000002&z=5

However, PROFEPA’s budget has been slashed by 25 percent over the last five years, leading to less results in fighting wildlife trafficking and a number of confiscated animals then later disappearing, according to AnimaNaturalis. Additionally, 26 state-level PROFEPA offices reported they did not have enough food or medicine for the animals, while 16 reported they had no veterinarians on staff.

SinEmbargo discovered that there is no data on 970 animals, confiscated by the government from January 2019 and July 2020, including tigers, lions, jaguars, crocodiles, deer, reptiles and exotic birds.

One owner of Australian parakeets, interviewed by SinEmbargo, stated he made reports to PROFEPA about wildlife trafficking via social media in October 2020, including sending screenshots of the chats. They received no response until February 2021, when the environmental office stated that there was no “certainty” as to whether the data provided about these wildlife specimens was true, making it “difficult” to carry out any inspections.

SinEmbargo asked PROFEPA for comment but received no response by time of publication.

“How can you talk about regulating and banning certain situations when the current regulatory framework is far from being enforced by an authority with limited budget and human resources, and with operational and transparency problems?” asked Arturo Berlanga, the director of AninaNaturalis Mexico.

*This investigation was carried out by SinEmbargo. It has been edited for clarity and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. Read the original in Spanish here.

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