Friday, March 14, 2014

Suffering in Silence

The true horror of the South American wildlife trade

South America’s flora and fauna is an impeccable example of the biodiversity that the continent possesses; jaguars, anacondas, monkeys and tapirs roam the Amazonian forests, with incredibly rare pink river dolphins cruising the rivers; condors and eagles gracefully patrol the skies of the Andes, with pumas and Spectacle Bears (the only bear endemic to South America) inhabiting the mountains themselves. But there’s an underlying element of sadness when thinking about these magnificent creatures - throughout the continent, thousands upon thousands of wildlife is uprooted from it’s natural habitat and subjected to the true horror that is the wildlife trade.

In Bolivia, as is the case in a lot of South America, the trade for wild animals is immense; and the root of the problem can be traced to the very questionable laws against the trade itself. One main problem is that wildlife trade is essentially still legal, and often this is not a large problem - but this means there is the potential for the animals to be exploited; and this is unfortunately a common occurrence. This can lead to dire consequences - there are a saddening group of species on the brink of extinction in Bolivia and the rest of South America - including the spectacle bears, spider and howler monkeys

The start of the trade can be traced to the forests, mountains or wherever the creatures roam, with international traffickers from across the globe collaborating with various dealers to snatch animals from their habitats. The lack of borders between Amazonian countries means that animals can be taken away and sold on very easily with little worry from the authorities or governments.

Fortunately, in Bolivia there are those who aim to help fight the trade - Senda Verde, an ecolodge/refuge centre located in the Yungas near the town of Coroico, takes in various rescue animals, ranging from capuchin and spider monkeys, to caimans and even andean bears. Upon visiting, I was informed of another reason that the those who fight for the animals of Bolivia face many problems;

‘In Bolivia, you can’t actually re-release animals back into the wild!’ said one of the volunteers at the centre.
‘This makes it incredibly hard as the amount of animals that are affected outweighs the number of centres that can house rescue-animals.’ ‘We’ve had animals given to us from various parts of the country - one of our spider monkeys was caged up waiting to be eaten - the sad part is that this is not an isolated incident.’

Even in La Paz, one cannot escape the horrors of the trade - it has been reported that in the depths of the market in El Alto, wild animals are sometimes on offer; there have been rumours that penguins, which would have come all the way from Argentina or Chile, were up for sale in the market.

It will never be an easy task to rid Bolivia, or even the entire continent from the exploitive, mendacious and tragically prevalent wildlife trade - there are moves to inhibit it, and ecotourism is helping to give local communities alternatives to dealing with traffickers and poachers. However, until the full impact of the trade is understood by governments, and more importantly the people of Bolivia, thousands of animals will continue to suffer in silence.

Written by Paden Vaughan 

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