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Stop buying so wildlife stops dying

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The crisis in Venezuela is putting pressure on wildlife, and Trinidadian and Tobagonian exotic animal buyers are part of the problem. It’s breeding season for many animals right now, and that means poachers are roving through the forests to capture young animals for the pet trade. Many of them end up openly for sale in pet shops in T&T or on social media sites.

Young exotics can be conditioned to live with humans, the older ones have no commercial value. They are often killed when they try to protect their offspring.

If you think about buying that pet monkey or macaw, don’t. It’s illegal and you will have blood on your hands. If you stop buying, wildlife stops dying.

Whenever you see a pet monkey, realise that its mother was probably killed. For the first two years or so a baby monkey depends completely on its mother for survival.

Monkey babies cling to their mothers. To get the baby, poachers must kill the mother.

Macaws and parrots are often caught as hatchlings or fledglings by chopping down the trees in which they nest.

In other cases poachers raid nests year after year, ensuring a steady decline of the wild population. Many birds do not survive being smuggled across borders, which can involve long periods without food or water or suffocation when they are stuffed into boxes, socks, shoes, baskets or whatever other methods smugglers use.

Most of the exotic animals that are sold in T&T come from Venezuela.

The deteriorating situation there has changed some aspects of the wildlife trade in the Orinoco Delta, which is one of the last great wild places in the world, and a source for the wildlife trade.

The Warao people, who inhabit the Delta, are self sufficient when it comes to meat, fish, plantain and dasheen.

They used to sell these to supplement their diet with flour, rice, sugar and oil. Now that Venezuela’s economy has collapsed commercial foodstuffs have become scarce.

Government food-aid has dwindled. They used to get subsidised food rations every two weeks, but now this is sometimes once a month, or nothing at all.

The Bolivarian government has fixed food prices at below production rates, so farmers have stopped growing it.

The Bengoa Foundation for Food and Nutrition found, in 2016, that 25 per cent of children were malnourished and that Venezuelans had lost an average of 11 to 33 pounds in body weight.

Trinidadian wildlife smugglers make use of this desperation to barter food for wildlife with the Warao.

There was always poaching before but a new development is that some Waroa are now full-time poachers. They trade wildlife for the rice, flour, sugar and oil that they can no longer buy.

It’s a short term survival strategy that endangers the ecosystem on which the Warao people and culture depend.

Ecosystem collapse can end indigenous livelihoods. A famous example is from Somalia, where fishery resources were raided by foreign fishing fleets.

The local fishers lost their livelihoods and turned to piracy, which now threatens international shipping off the coast of East Africa. In North America the near-extinction of buffalos caused the near-collapse of midwestern Native American cultures.

Low prices keep the Warao in poverty so they must keep on poaching. They might sell a CITES protected blue and yellow macaw for the equivalent of TT$30 or less in foodstuffs.

That same bird is sold to buyers in T&T for between TT$1,500 and $2,000. That’s an over 5,000 per cent profit margin.

The same way that T&T is waypoint for the South American drug trade it is also a likely transfer point for the international wildlife trade.

Keep in mind that the same criminals who bring in the drugs, guns and engage in human trafficking are also involved with the smuggling of wildlife.

We must care enough to stop this trade. It is one of the reasons why one in five species on earth faces extinction today. That number will rise to 50 per cent of all species by the end of the century, according to biologists. We can’t stop the worldwide trade, but we can stop it in T&T.

Agriculture Minister Rambharat, in charge of T&T’s Wildlife Division, announced that he intends to instruct the Wildlife Division to start enforcing wildlife laws in full and seize undocumented wildlife.

That’s a step in the right direction but the Wildlife Division will need the budget and manpower to do the job.

Enforcement is needed but education is the real key to changing attitudes towards captive wildlife.

Once consumers understand the vulnerability of ecosystems, indigenous communities, the cruelty of the wildlife trade and the links to organised crime, it will no longer be considered socially acceptable to put that pretty parrot, macaw or cute monkey on display.

When the buying stops, the killing stops too.

Most of the exotic animals that are sold in T&T come from Venezuela. The deteriorating situation there has changed some aspects of the wildlife trade in the Orinoco Delta, which is one of the last great wild places in the world, and a source for the wildlife trade.


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