Statistics on wild animals do not bring any data on Brazilian wild
cats. We are therefore reproducing below the excellent report of
Conservation International as the main reference on the subject.
The Woods are Silent
Every year, 12 million animals are taken out of Brazilian forests
and woods. Little by little, smugglers channel them to street markets
and road sellers throughout the country. Or to ports and airports
in the U.S., Europe and Asia. This market has become so active that
it currently ranks third among illegal trading activities in the
world – moving billions of dollars annually, it comes right
after drugs and arms. Brazil, one of the largest suppliers of this
illegal network, accounts for at least 10% of this underground trading.
And wild life is therefore suffering a slow and silent extermination,
day after day.
“ Hi missus, gimme an “acarajé”. How
much is it?
“That’ll be 2 reais. Want some hot pepper?”
“No, thanks. By the way, could you tell me where I could buy
a “mico”(small monkey) or a Mackaw? “
“Well, son – just sit over there, at the bar, and wait
It was raining slightly that morning and the sky of Salvador was
uncharacteristically cloudy. Nevertheless, the Central Market (Mercado
Modelo) was bustling. Idlers, craftsmanship sellers, peddlers, wandered
all over the place and a loud group of “capoeira” dancers
was attracting foreign tourists to watch.
But there was no time for distractions. In two minutes, posing
as a seller of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim souvenirs, a man slyly approached
him at the counter. “What kind are you looking for?”,
he asked me, matter-of-factly. Dressed in white from head to toe
(after all, it was Friday in Bahia), he went on reciting the list
for immediate delivery: saguis, parrots, mackaws, turtles.
“I was fancying a mackaw, but the bird is too big and too
noisy. Wouldn’t it be dangerous to take one?”, I tried.
“Nah, yesterday a friend of mine, who’s got the animals,
delivered ten “araras-canindé” to a boat harbored
here in the port. He’s always doing it”, the man said.
“Just give’m a dosis of maracujina (a tranquilizer sold
over the counter in drugstores), put’m in a cardboard box
and the critters will never utter a cry durin’ the whole trip”.
The so-called friend charged 1000 reais for the bird. If you took
more than one, you had a discount.
Illegal buying or selling wild animals – whether a bird in
a cage, or live animals – is not restricted to smugglers or
traffickers. Though prohibited by law since 1967, trading of Brazilian
fauna species runs freely in street markets, popular markets, pet
shops, on the riverside and along the roads in the country. You
can check “inventories” on the web (see box in page
28) and order endangered species, as easily as if you were in a
CD shop looking for a rare item.
The figures of this thriving market are impressive. It is estimated
that illegal trading of wild animals (not coming from authorized
breeders) throughout the world amounts to around 10 billion dollars
every year. Environmentalist groups believe this sum may easily
reach more than 15 billion dollars. A business only less profitable
than drugs and arms trafficking, but more profitable than gems.
In the underground world, goods are often “merged”.
In Rio de Janeiro, three years ago, a large amount of cocaine was
found inside boa constrictors. And in the U.S., 36 kilos of the
drug traveled hidden in snakes coming from Colombia.
With one of the most diversified fauna in the Earth, Brazil is
a prime target for this underground marketing, accounting for 10%
of the total volume of transactions. That means 1 billion dollars
moving into the hands of traffickers in the country. And to spur
the covetous trade, 12 million animals – from delicate butterflies
to rare blue mackaws, to ferocious pumas – are being sacked
every year from our forests. Nearly 30% go to the foreign market,
which also contributes to this slow but cruel wildlife extermination
On one end of the chain, uninformed people are breeding wild animals
as if they were companion animals. And to boost the market, there
are the private collectors, tannery owners, zoos, aquariums and
research centers in Brazil and abroad. Other potential customers
are the large chemical and pharmaceutical companies, that use animals
in laboratory research and experiments. During the 60’s, Peru
exported 500,000 primates from the Amazon region, for scientific
purposes. And very often, such transactions involve the same institutions
that are supposedly controlled by government agencies. “Some
breeders and parks registered with IBAMA [Brazilian Environment
Protection Agency] take part in these dealings”, says a former
trafficker from S. Paulo. Many of these institutions, even when
legally registered, often times profit from lax surveillance. That
was the case at the Bwana Park, in Rio de Janeiro. Last month, IBAMA
inspectors found 103 animals dead in this private zoo. Many were
endangered species, like the spotted puma or the broad-nose cayman.
The police are investigating a possible connection with drug and
semi-precious gems trafficking, that use stuffed animals to carry
the goods. But thousands of wild animals, sold to people who take
them home although they do not have even the most basic information
about proper care, end up dead.
Animals are brought from the North and Northeast. Belém,
in the heart of the Amazon, and Feira de Santana, a crossroads of
poorly controlled areas in Bahia, are the main distribution poles.
The network involves peddlers, who work on the main roads, truck
and interstate bus drivers, who carry the doped animals in cardboard
boxes. Once in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the animals
are sent to markets, pet shops or even abroad. In bordering countries,
such as Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, receivers
take birds, primates, reptiles and felines, which are then sent
with fake documents to North America, Europe and Asia. The terrible
travel conditions make for an extremely high mortality rate. Of
every ten animals traded, only one gets to its final destination.
As aggressive as deforestation, trafficking is rapidly reducing
the variety of native species, says a WWF report. When out capturing
animals, hunters mercilessly kill adult animals to keep the youngs,
more valued for trading. Thus reproductive capacity and, as a consequence,
the genetic load of the wild group decreases.
"The blue macaw is a sad example of what illegal trading can
bring”, says a biologist from Rio de Janeiro, Flavia Murad
Ferreira, who researches illegal trade in Brazil. In 1985, when
it was found that there were only three remaining blue macaws in
the wild in Curaçá, Bahia, traffickers moved fast
and took away two. The last bird was never found again and this
year the species (Cyanopsitta spixii) was considered extinct. Now,
there are only six dozen blue macaws in captivity, in refuges around