Wildlife Trafficking’s New Front: Latin America

For more than two million years, jaguars have inhabited a wide range of habitats in the Americas. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

As governments, conservationists, and businesses gather in London for the 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, we have an opportunity to head off a new wildlife trafficking crisis emerging in Latin America.

Today, as governments, conservationists, and businesses gather in London for the 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, we have an opportunity to head off a new wildlife trafficking crisis emerging in Latin America.

Anteaters are another trafficked species in Latin America today. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

Experts are increasingly concerned that jaguar poaching is on the rise in a number of countries and it appears Asian middlemen are buying up many of the most prized parts — including teeth and claws — to send overseas.

It’s impacting the jaguar. For more than two million years, these big cats have inhabited a wide range of habitats in the Americas, from deserts to rainforests, from high hills to low beaches. But now, experts are increasingly concerned that jaguar poaching is on the rise in a number of countries and it appears Asian middlemen are buying up many of the most prized parts — including teeth and claws — to send overseas. All such trade is illegal.

Andean bears have been trafficked for use of their body parts in traditional medicines. Photo: Rob Wallace/WCS.

Many Latin American governments and regional organizations currently pay insufficient attention to wildlife crimes, in part because they do not view wildlife trafficking as a high enough priority.

We must encourage these stakeholders to change their views, in part by fostering a deeper understanding of the close tie between wildlife crime and regional security — including links to other forms of organized crime, impacts on the rule of law, and the role of corruption, not to mention the increased transmission of infectious diseases and the proliferation of invasive species that could result if wildlife trafficking is not addressed.

Sharks are currently killed at an industrial scale in the waters off Latin America to supply the Asian market with fins for shark fin soup. Photo: ©Keith Ellenbogen.

When trafficking networks devastate iconic species in one part of the world, their attention inevitably turns to places where one finds other animals with similar physical characteristics.

Training programs must go beyond the classroom to ensure knowledge retention and effective crime prevention by the appropriate authorities. There should be mechanisms to embed expertise with frontline enforcement agencies and to provide on-the-job support and training.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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