Thousands Arrested in Global Crackdown of Black Market Bird Trade
More than 8,700 birds and other animals have been seized and nearly 4,000 people arrested in a global crackdown on the black market trade in Latin American birds, according to INTERPOL. Operation Cage targeted illegal bird and egg sales in Central and South America and Europe.
Between April and June of 2012, authorities seized not only thousands of live birds, but turtles, fish, mammals and elephant ivory. The raids and arrests took place at ports, airports, open-air markets, pet stores and taxidermy shops. Along with the birds and other animals, authorities seized trapping equipment, guns and ammunition.
Operation Cage was launched in response to the growing illegal trans-border trade of captive-bred and wild birds and eggs, and the increasing involvement of organized crime networks in their transit from Latin America to Europe.
The global black market for exotic birds is a multi-billion-dollar business that has had a big impact on bird populations in Central and South America. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), roughly 100 of the world’s 350 parrot species are now threatened with extinction by illegal seizure for trade and habitat loss.
“Operation Cage once again clearly demonstrates the global scale of the problem of the illegal trade in birds and other wildlife, which is not just an organized crime issue, but also represents a biosecurity risk,” said David Higgins, manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme.
Birds raised in captivity and sold on the black market often carry diseases that can pose a threat to other birds and people.
“The criminals involved in this illicit trade have no concern for the welfare of these birds and animals, [or] that many of the species being trafficked are endangered. The only concern they have is [for] the profits they can make,” Higgins said.
“The capture and illicit trade of birds has particularly impacted threatened birds because their rarity yields higher demand and higher black market prices for the trappers and traders. In addition to the impact of collecting on wild populations, the illegal trade causes tremendous suffering to individual birds, with many dying during transportation,” said Dr. George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, the only organization exclusively conserving birds throughout the Americas.
Supported by the United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, and Environment Canada, Operation Cage was coordinated by INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme unit at the General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon.
Thirty-two countries participated, including: Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Results are still being gathered and will be used to collate and analyse intelligence for future interventions.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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