As a blue flash appears in the evening sky, Antnio Maral dos
Santos runs through his backyard yelling, "Here he comes!"
Mr. dos Santos is one of many peasants who are unofficial
guardians of the blue Spix macaw, the last of its species to survive
in the wild. "It gives me great satisfaction each day to know that
he is still alive," says the Cura goatherder.
The Spix macaw is an example of what's resulted from illegal
animal trafficking - an estimated $5 billion global business that
Brazil's National Network Against Wild Animal Trafficking (Renctas)
says trails only narcotics and weapons in illegal commerce.
"These traffickers are as well organized as the drug and arms
mafias," says Renctas General Coordinator Dener Giovanini.
And Brazil is fighting back, with a vigor once reserved for
battling the narcotics trade. In recent months, the country's
authorities have persevered against cultural resistance and
governmental neglect, campaigning to end animal trafficking by
teaming up for the first time with the eight-month-old Renctas and
IBAMA, Brazil's federal environmental protection agency.
And as with contraband and drugs, the US is the top customer in
the illicit purchase of endangered fauna.
"The United States is undoubtedly the world's largest wildlife
consuming country and center of commerce for the world's animals,"
says Traffic, monitoring arm of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
In Brazil, tropical birds such as the Spix macaw, along with
reptiles and small monkeys, bring in as much as $700 million a year
from collectors, pet shops, and scientific institutions, according to
Renctas. And the rarer the species, the higher the price abroad.
The Spix macaw, for example, sells for as much as $60,000, the
In February, a naturalized US citizen named Manoel Loureno Galo
was arrested in So Paulo trying to smuggle to Pennsylvania 24
hyacinth macaw eggs estimated at $10,000 each.
"Since many species are near extinction, even politicians are
listening to us now," says Elizabeth MacGregor, Brazil representative
for the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
"And in every Brazilian city, there is some type of organization
that protects animals," he adds.
Brazil, Colombia, and Peru are home to animal traffickers'
favorite South American fauna while Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay
typically serve as transit points for Asia, Europe, and the United
States. In Colombia, the second-richest country after Brazil in
biological diversity, poaching has driven several parrot species to
the brink of extinction.
Deforestation, hunting, and poverty have also helped decimate
regional wildlife, but the Biodiversitas Foundation says trafficking
has played the principal role in endangering 218 Brazilian species. …