Colombia Has a Wildlife Trafficking Problem

We tend to think of the illegal wildlife trade as being centered in Africa, where elephants and rhinos are being poached with abandon, and Asia, where ivory, rhino horn, and everything from rare turtles to pangolins are prized.

While that’s a fair assessment, wildlife trafficking is a global business. Case in point: Colombian officials reportedly seized 64,507 animals from traffickers in 2013.

That’s from an in-depth InfosurHoy report on the state of Colombia’s wildlife trade, which quoted the number from the Colombian National Police. (I haven’t been able to track down any info regarding that specific stat from the National Police, but a report from September 2012 put the year’s catch at 46,637 animals, so a 65k total doesn’t seem like a stretch.)

That’s a huge number of individuals, which came from all over the animal kingdom: mammals, rare birds, reptiles, and amphibians are all regularly captured for meat, as pets, as private “specimens” and so on.

Reporter Laura Herrera specifically notes the poison dart frogs (Dendrobatidae) as being illegally collected because people have interest in converting their poison into drugs. (Based on the Portuguese translation of the story, I believe she means of the pharmaceutical variety.)

Regardless, rainforest frogs like those in Dendrobatidae are a great example to bring up; frogs worldwide have been absolutely clobbered by chytrid fungus, and the poison dart frogs have the added pressure of losing their habitat while also being targeted by “collectors” who can’t leave their awesome looks in nature.

Regardless, Colombia’s wildlife trafficking problem is immense, and—surprise!—its fueled by cash from other continents. From Herrera’s story:

“There are different modalities: trafficking as a means of survival, trafficking on an average scale – when these animals are marketed in the main cities of the country – and trafficking on a large scale, when the animal is taken abroad,” said Lt. Cl. Wilman Chavarro, director for Protection and Special Services of the National Police (PVC).

The main international destinations are the United States, Europe and Asia, according to the National Police.

“Most of the trafficked animals leave the country through ports and land borders, not through the El Dorado airport in Bogotá,” said Julio César Pulido, director of Environmental Control for the District Department of the Environment (SDA) in Bogotá.

There’s a lot more Colombia-specific juice in the piece, so if you’ve made it this far, I suggest you go give it a read. In any case, it serves as yet another reminder that the trafficking game affects far more than just the charismatic we hear (and write) most about.

At this point, I’d think of it thusly: If a country has an animal that’s rare, prized for food or medicine, or otherwise cool enough to be collected, there are surely going to be people who are illegally collecting or killing them and putting them up for sale.

By Derek Mead |