Friday, 7 October 2016

Wildlife butchers of Belén: the town that serves up rare species for a few dollars

In this Peruvian shanty town endangered wildlife is sold daily at market, live or freshly cooked in gory detail by traders flouting lax enforcement. Stopping this growing illegal trade will be key to discussions at Cites this week
Dan Collyns in Iquitos, Peru
 Wednesday 28 September 2016 11.42 BST Last modified on Wednesday 28 September 2016 12.28 BST

Where a confluence of rivers meet the Peruvian city of Iquitos, the world’s largest city to be inaccessible by road, lies Belén, a partially floating shanty town and market where endangered monkeys change hands for a few dollars and wildlife traffickers take orders to stock informal zoos or private collections with the abundant fauna from the world’s largest rainforest.

Wildlife is part of the town’s daily trade. A ban on selling bushmeat is openly ignored in Belén’s market. Deep-auburn slabs of the smoked meat of the endangered South America tapir (Tapirus terrestris) are stacked high on trestle tables. The protruding hoof of a peccary or the paw of an agouti betray the fact that there is hunted game on sale.

A yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoid denticulata), listed as vulnerable by the IUCN red list, is butchered for the pot while still quivering, its head moves from side to side. The woman cutting up its front-parts remarks: “This animal dies when it’s in the pot.” Biodiversity served up in all its gory detail. The soft-shelled eggs of the taricaya, an Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), also listed as vulnerable, are served in pungent heaps to customers in the rubbish-strewn alleys. 

Indigenous communities are allowed to hunt and eat wild game but selling the meat is prohibited. But old habits die hard, says Clelia Rengifo, the head of wildlife trafficking control for the regional government of Loreto, Peru’s largest Amazon region which occupies one-third of the country, an area bigger than Germany.

Peru’s environmental police rarely seize bushmeat in Belén, because, she says, it is too dangerous. “Before you know it the people start to gather and there’s a machete flying, a shot fired or a knife appears. It’s overwhelming.”

The illicit trade in endangered species – dead or alive – and how to stop it will be discussed at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Cites in Johannesburg, South Africa, which began at the weekend. The world’s largest ever wildlife conference opened with calls for changes to the protection levels of 500 species of wild animals and plants

Peru’s rich biodiversity and poor enforcement makes it a hub for the multi-billion dollar illegal trade which ranks fourth after drug trafficking, arms, and the trafficking of human beings, as one of the largest transnational organised criminal activities

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