Shedding Light on Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in Latin America

Thinking Animals United (TAU)—an educational and communications organization whose purpose is to galvanize worldwide support for the care, protection, and conservation of animals—has partnered with the National Whistleblower Center and its Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program to enlist greater support in reporting illegal wildlife trafficking activities. Through its work at the United Nations (UN), the Rethinking Animals Summit, and forthcoming media campaigns, Thinking Animals United urges a diverse public to recognize that other species are essential to human survival.

In addition to supporting Congressional efforts to strengthen wildlife trafficking enforcement and utilize existing incentives for whistleblowers to report potential wildlife crime under US laws, TAU seeks to engage a lay audience in animal issues that have immediate and direct impact on human wellbeing. Of serious concern is the illegal trafficking of animals and their parts. Animal trafficking funds terrorism, devastates biodiversity, and imperils local communities. Thankfully, a general awareness of trafficking in Africa has led to government and public support for measures that are aimed at halting if not eliminating the killing and transport of animals from Africa to consumer markets in (primarily) China and Southeast Asia, as well as the United States.

Trafficking from South America into the United States, on the other hand, is under-reported and the scope of the problem is largely unacknowledged. Combating Wildlife Trafficking from Latin American to the United States, a report by Defenders of Wildlife, offers some disturbing insight. Protecting species under CITES is the core of Defenders’ international work, with a special emphasis on unsustainable or illegal trade in species in North America and Latin America.

The Executive Summary of the report states that, “The United States is generally accepted as one of the largest consumers of illegal wildlife and wildlife products worldwide. Much of the world’s trade in illegal wildlife is either driven by U.S. consumers or passes through U.S. ports on its way to other destinations—making the United States a key player in wildlife trafficking” (p.1 ‘Combating Wildlife…’).

The most frequently seized species—live, dead or in product form—were queen conch, sea turtles, caimans, crocodiles and iguanas. At least 20 percent of all species seized at US ports of entry were listed under Appendix I of CITES (p.3 ‘Combating Wildlife…’), which bans all commercial shipments and trade in species on that list. These include dozens of species of macaws and parrots, jaguars, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, alligators, and golden frogs.

Illegal trade requires the complicity of truck and taxi drivers, middlemen, traders, slaughterhouses, customs officials, and criminal gangs. It is precisely this scenario that Global Wildlife Whistleblowers can effectively address working with citizens and other organizations to report the networks and people involved through anonymous reporting mechanisms, financial incentives, and whistleblower protection. TAU will be featuring the efforts of the National Whistleblower Center’s Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program to help put on end to this and other incidences of wildlife trafficking at its next Rethinking Animals Summit in September 2019.