Illegal wildlife trade is a growing global problem that is also on the rise in Mexico.
While Mexico was previously considered only as a transit country for animal contraband on its way to lucrative markets in the United States, Asia and Europe, demand for Mexican species has grown in recent years.
One example is the totoaba, a fish that is native to the Gulf of Mexico, whose swim bladder can fetch prices on the black market of up to US $60,000 per kilogram, although more conservative estimates place the price between $8,000 and $25,000.
Other Mexican species in demand include bighorn sheep, birds such as parrots and macaws as well as reptiles and feline species, says Joel González Moreno of the federal environmental agency, Profepa.
González says that jaguars are the most expensive animal, selling for 40,000 to 70,000 pesos (US $2,200 – 3,850) followed by golden eagles, which go for up to 50,000 pesos; red macaws, 30,000 to 40,000; pumas 20,000 to 30,000; and yellow-headed parrots, 15,000 to 20,000.
The United Nations Environment Program says that illegal wildlife trade could be worth as much as US $23 billion per year.
While totoaba is almost exclusively sold into the Chinese market, there is demand for Mexican species in all corners of the planet: 256 Mexican reptiles were found in Holland in 2016 and 83 wild birds were detected at the Mexico City airport last year, destined for Spain.
However, González says there is also domestic demand for local species, especially in the cities of Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tijuana and that sustainable wildlife trade is permitted under Mexican law with some rural communities depending on it for their livelihood.
“In Mexico we don’t have a ban on accessing the resource. On the contrary, our legislation allows for both conservation and sustainable use that seeks to protect species but at the same time permits economic development in rural communities.”
Mexican law only expressly prohibits the commercialization of four species — parrots, Mexican monkeys, marine mammals and sea turtles, although licenses are required for the capture and trade of other animals.
Despite widespread community condemnation and a growing demand on the black market that places species at risk, laws to protect other species have not been implemented.
González believes that efforts to combat illegal trade should focus on those who transport and distribute animals and enable their commercialization rather than locals who collect or hunt species out of economic necessity.
One law did change on April 7 when Congress modified the federal penal code so that illegal wildlife trade will be treated the same as organized crime, with tougher penalties for those who illegally extract, distribute or commercialize animals and plants.
According to González the change “creates new challenges because now they have to employ greater investigation and intelligence resources to prove that the criminal organizations that traffic wildlife do exist.”
Source: Forbes México (sp)