Brazilian Amazon Has Lost Millions of Wild Animals to Criminal Networks, Report Finds
By Sharon Guynup
The Brazilian Amazon is hemorrhaging illegally traded wildlife according to a new report released Monday. Each year, thousands of silver-voiced saffron finches and other songbirds, along with rare macaws and parrots, are captured, trafficked and sold as pets. Some are auctioned as future contestants in songbird contests. Others are exported around the globe.
Fish bound for ornamental home aquariums also pour out of the Amazon, including the tiny, iridescent blue and red cardinal tetra. Arapaima fish — also known as pirarucù, one of the world's largest freshwater fish — are caught illegally, "laundered" amidst captive-bred specimens and shipped to the U.S. in large numbers.
Other fish are headed for the dinner table, as are freshwater turtles and their eggs, while tapir, peccary and other mammals are sold in Brazil as bushmeat. Jaguar teeth, heads and skins are shipped to China.
Millions of animals are being illegally captured and traded live and in parts in a thriving Brazilian black market, according to the report, produced by TRAFFIC, a UK-based nonprofit that studies the trade. "The pervasive and uncontrolled capture of wild animals and plants for the illegal trade is having grave consequences for Brazilian biodiversity, the national economy, the rule of law and good governance," it says.
Lack of Data Hides Trafficking
Deep-dive research by biodiversity consultant Sandra Charity — who wrote the 140-page study with Juliana Ferreira, executive director of the nonprofit conservation group Freeland Brasil —focused on Amazon rainforest species and closely investigated the domestic bird trade.
Importantly, the researchers found that an ever-increasing segment of the illegal trade launders poached animals via a sprawling, legal captive breeding industry — a network that specializes in birds, which have a huge domestic market in Brazil.
The authors also discovered that few government agencies have kept records or reported solid data that quantify the true scope of the problem. In many cases, records did not even identify the species or number of animals seized by authorities, while data coming from the Amazon was "notoriously scarce."
"Significant seizures are made on a daily basis by Amazon state law enforcement, and we did not have access to their data," Ferreria said, adding, "from what we saw, [the illegal trade] is even bigger than we imagined."
Trends remain difficult to track, however, since seizure data alone represents a mere fraction of animals illegally pulled from the wild. But it is clear from existing data that there is an uptick in smuggling of some species, including jaguars: seizures increased by 200% from 2012 to 2018.
The lack of comprehensive data, the report notes, tends to play down the importance, as well as concealing the severity, of Brazilian trafficking — undermining enforcement efforts, legal attention and the funding needed to fight it.
But the study warns that the illegal trade is having serious consequences not only for the animals seized, but for entire species, ecosystems and people, not just in the Amazon but around the globe. The current COVID-19 epidemic, for example, caused by a coronavirus that jumped from wildlife to humans, has reminded the world that trafficking in wild animals is not merely a conservation issue, says Ferreira. It's both a public health issue and a biosafety issue.
An overarching national strategy is needed now to deal effectively with the problem, said the research team.
Impact on the Amazon
Today's vigorous, deadly commerce has helped speed the demise of 1,173 species that are either facing extinction or have already vanished in Brazil. Often the largest, strongest, most beautiful animals are lost, impacting the entire population. For example, the trade targets male birds with their showy plumage, while the few survivors of a species remaining in the wild can become inbred, weakening the gene pool and genetic resilience.
The scope of the plunder has also sparked concern over broader, cascading ecosystem impacts, says Ferreira, who explained that regularly taking animals from wild populations creates a domino effect, dismantling the biological and physical systems that sustain all life on Earth.
For example, without birds that act as pollinators and seed-dispersers, trees and plants that many creatures rely on for food disappear. Tropical forests also act as huge carbon vaults, mitigating climate change and extreme weather; they offer buffers from flooding and provide drinking water for millions of people. Losing millions of animals every year to trafficking could lead not only to empty forests, but eventually cause whole ecosystems to crash.
Trafficking as Global Organized Crime
The wildlife trade is also gaining increasing attention because of its lawless perpetrators: transnational criminal trafficking networks span the globe, make huge profits and cultivating massive corruption. Their illicit supply chain extends from the Amazon to almost every continent.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) describes the illegal wildlife trade as "one of the most lucrative illegal businesses in the world." It's ranked as the world's fourth largest source of criminal earnings, generating up to U.S. $23 billion annually. With so much money changing hands under the table, the trade has even become a global national security issue.
But even though environmental authorities may seize illegally traded animals and apprehend some smugglers, the study notes that law enforcement is not targeting the kingpins who mastermind the trade or its supply chains. As a result, this shadowy underworld industry thrives as it breeds widespread corruption, bribery, fraud, forgery, money laundering and smuggling.
Unfortunately, "Existing legislation does not consider wildlife trafficking a 'serious crime,'" and there are numerous loopholes and inconsistencies in laws, the report says. Since the illicit trade is such a lucrative business, mild penalties offer little deterrent. A six- to 12-month "detention" is common, which is just restriction of freedom — not jail time — or is negotiated down to a stint at community service.
In addition, the report documented extensive evidence of widespread fraud by both private and commercial breeders in Brazil who forged permits, mislabeled species declarations, and tampered with government-issued identification rings to sell illegally-acquired songbirds alongside those they legally breed. This particular market is largely domestic, feeding an entrenched Brazilian culture that keeps songbirds as pets. IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, estimated that in 2015 alone, some three million passerine birds were fraudulently listed with the government — 75% of all that were registered.
Curbing Amazon Trafficking
While the goal of the new report was not to make a comprehensive assessment of the international trade, the authors found that foreign buyers are driving much of it. "It seems that some Asian countries are sourcing more species in Brazil, such as sea cucumber, sea horses, ornamental fish, jaguars and shark fin," Ferreira said, adding that the U.S. is a top consumer of ornamental fish and leather made from pirarucu skin. Birds, amphibians and reptiles typically sell to European collectors, and the Middle East is a market for Amazon raptors.
Digital commerce — the internet, social media and messaging groups — have become key "sales offices" for wild animals and the products made from them. The "merchandise" itself is moved in every way imaginable: via cars, buses, boats, planes and overnight courier services. Human "mules" have been arrested with birds or eggs taped to their bodies or concealed in clothing. A porous, 8,000-mile border between Brazil and eight Amazon neighbors creates an easy flow. The Peruvian and Colombian borders in the Northwestern Amazon form a "particularly relevant hub" for trafficking, the report noted.
Combatting the trade requires that it be recognized and treated as a serious crime. More complete data is also needed that will allow for strategic planning and strengthened law enforcement, says lead author Sandra Charity. Stronger national laws that target professional traffickers would also allow for the implementation of the UN Convention on Organized Crime, she said.
Without a market, there is no commerce, so educating consumers is key, concludes Ferreira.
"Ultimately, it is a matter of choosing why we are buying that animal, or wildlife product, and if it is worth it …. Cultures are dynamic and need to evolve. We need to start to change the way we view wildlife as commodities," she said, and "we also need to understand that loving an animal does equal imprisoning them."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Coronavirus Shines Light on Zoos as Danger Zones for Deadly Disease Transmission Between Humans and Animals
By Marilyn Kroplick
The term "zoonotic disease" wasn't a hot topic of conversation before the novel coronavirus started spreading across the globe and upending lives. Now, people are discovering how devastating viruses that transfer from animals to humans can be. But the threat can go both ways — animals can also get sick from humans. There is no better time to reconsider the repercussions of keeping animals captive at zoos, for the sake of everyone's health.
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By Kate Whiting
Bernice Dapaah calls bamboo "a miracle plant," because it grows so fast and absorbs carbon. But it can also work wonders for children's education and women's employment – as she's discovered.
These are the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. Statista<p>"The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is because it's found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we're going to import," says Dapaah, one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders.</p><p>"It's a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana."</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a335b5dffdd806bd6bb4debea90c2045"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dxsb9c4HMn0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Supporting Students<p>Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn.</p><p>Each time they sell a bike, they donate a bike to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.</p><p>Dapaah knows how transformative a shorter journey to school can be to academic performance. She grew up living with her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb3joGYmx9A&feature=emb_logo" target="_blank">grandpa, a forester in a rural part of the country</a>.</p><p>"We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school. He later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university."</p><p>The experience inspired her to launch Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative with two other students at college.</p><p>"When we started this initiative, I looked back and said, when I was young, I had to walk miles before I could get to school, and sometimes if I was late, I was punished.</p><p>"Why don't we donate bikes for students to encourage them to study and so they can have enough time to be on books."</p><p>To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain and children's bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate <a href="https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/350343" target="_blank">10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years</a>.</p>
Empowering Women<p>The enterprise is also providing local jobs. It teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities, where jobs can be scarce. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.</p><p>Dapaah says they want to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.</p>
Reducing Emissions<p>By promoting a cycling culture in Ghana, Dapaah says they're also committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector and contributing to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.</p><p>"I love the idea of reusing bamboo to promote sustainable cycling. People want to go green, low-carbon, lean-energy efficient," she says.</p>
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Deforestation coupled with the rampant destruction of natural resources will soon have devastating effects on the future of society as we know it, according to two theoretical physicists who study complex systems and have concluded that greed has put us on a path to irreversible collapse within the next two to four decades, as VICE reported.
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By Kristen Pope
Melting and crumbling glaciers are largely responsible for rising sea levels, so learning more about how glaciers shrink is vital to those who hope to save coastal cities and preserve wildlife.
Groans, Creaks, Icebergs’ Calving Splashes<p>Oskar Glowacki already knew that melting glacial ice sounds like frying bacon. As ice bubbles burst, anyone nearby can hear crackling and popping, said Glowacki, a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Using hydrophones, he and other scientists now can make more nuanced measurements of how a changing climate sounds underwater, from the groans, creaks and splashes of a calving iceberg to the changes in whale songs as the ocean warms.</p><p>Glowacki recently used a pair of hydrophones to study the underwater world of glaciers, publishing his findings in <a href="https://www.the-cryosphere.net/14/1025/2020/" target="_blank">The Cryosphere</a>. He and co-author Grant B. Deane measured glacier retreat by <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/melting-glaciers-sound-like-frying-bacon/" target="_blank">recording the sounds of ice</a> – from small chunks to enormous slabs – falling off the glacier and splashing into the water.</p><p>During the summer of 2016, Glowacki's team placed two hydrophones near Hansbreen Glacier in Hornsund Fjord, Svalbard. For a month and a half, they recorded sounds, also using three time-lapse cameras to collect images – including the "drop height" (how far the ice fell into the water) – so they could compare photos to the recordings. The team created a formula to represent the relationship between the size of a piece of ice falling from a glacier and the sound it makes underwater, also accounting for the pieces of ice falling from varying heights. (Hear an example of the sound an iceberg makes while calving <a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-248456662/iceberg-calving-hansbreen-glacier" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p>
Unlocking Information About Antarctic Ice Shelf<p>Other researchers also are using hydrophones to learn more about crumbling glaciers. Bob Dziak, research oceanographer with the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory <a href="https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/acoustics" target="_blank">acoustics research group</a>, captured a massive calving event of the Nansen Ice Shelf in Antarctica with a hydrophone. He published the results with colleagues in <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2019.00183/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Earth Science</a></p><p>On April 7, 2016, satellite images showed a massive calving event had occurred on the ice shelf. The paper described it as the "first large scale calving event in >30 years."</p><p>However, once Dziak and colleagues delved into the data from three hydrophones deployed 60 kilometers east of the ice shelf, they uncovered a series of "icequakes" from January to early March 2016. He and other researchers believe that much of the ice actually broke free in mid-January to February, but it remained in the same location until an April storm – which their paper described as the "largest low-pressure storm recorded in the previous seven months" – broke the ice free.</p><p>"We suspected that the icebergs broke apart but remained in place – kind of pinned in place – until a major storm with high winds passed through the area and, finally, it was that last push that pushed the icebergs out to sea," Dziak says.</p><p>He and his co-authors wrote that "fortuitous timing and proximity of the hydrophone deployment presented a rare opportunity to study cryogenic signals and ocean ambient sounds of a large-scale ice shelf calving and iceberg formation event."</p>
Listening to Songs of Humpback Whales<p><a href="https://www.mbari.org/" target="_blank">Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute</a> studies the ocean, including its acoustics. One of the institute's projects involves examining the soundscape of California's Monterey Bay, including sounds from animals, humans, weather, and geologic processes like earthquakes. The researchers once even recorded an under-sea landslide. They also focus on recording and analyzing the <a href="http://www.mbari.org/humpback-song/" target="_blank">songs of humpback whales</a>. Male humpback whales' songs can be over 15 minutes in length, and they can be repeated for long periods of time – even hours. Listening to these songs and analyzing them can provide unique insights into the lives of these complex animals.</p><p>"Any time we want to study marine mammals, sound gives us a window into their lives because they use sound for all of their essential life activities, really," says institute biological oceanographer John Ryan. "Communication, foraging, reproduction, navigation – depending on the species, of course."</p><p>Previously, scientists had thought singing occurred only during courtship and mating, but now they think whales may also use song while migrating and hunting. They know song has a crucial role in the whales' lives.</p><p>"There's a whole other dimension to humpback whale song," Ryan says. "It is a mode of cultural transmission in this species. They learn songs from each other. They share songs as a population, and when populations mix and mingle, they learn new ideas, they explore with their song, improvise, and it's a real essential part of their culture."</p>
By William S. Lynn, Arian Wallach and Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila
A number of conservationists claim cats are a zombie apocalypse for biodiversity that need to be removed from the outdoors by "any means necessary" – coded language for shooting, trapping and poisoning. Various media outlets have portrayed cats as murderous superpredators. Australia has even declared an official "war" against cats.
Faulty Scientific Reasoning<p>In our <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13527" target="_blank">most recent publication</a> in the journal Conservation Biology, we examine an error of reasoning that props up the moral panic over cats.</p><p>Scientists do not simply collect data and analyze the results. They also establish a logical argument to explain what they observe. Thus, the reasoning behind a factual claim is equally important to the observations used to make that claim. And it is this reasoning about cats where claims about their threat to global biodiversity founder. In our analysis, we found it happens because many scientists take specific, local studies and overgeneralize those findings to the world at large.</p><p>Even when specific studies are good overall, projecting the combined "results" onto the world at large can cause unscientific overgeneralizations, particularly when <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.01.003" target="_blank">ecological context is ignored</a>. It is akin to pulling a quote out of context and then assuming you understand its meaning.</p>
Ways Forward<p>So how might citizens and scientists chart a way forward to a more nuanced understanding of cat ecology and conservation?</p><p>First, those examining this issue on all sides can acknowledge that both the well-being of cats and the survival of threatened species are legitimate concerns.</p><p>Second, cats, like any other predator, affect their ecological communities. Whether that impact is good or bad is a complex value judgment, not a scientific fact.</p><p>Third, there is a need for a more rigorous approach to the study of cats. Such an approach must be mindful of the importance of ecological context and avoid the pitfalls of faulty reasoning. It also means resisting <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13126" target="_blank">the siren call of a silver (lethal) bullet</a>.</p>
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