Illegal Trade of Wild Species


Mexico ranks fourth among the twelve most biodiverse countries in the world, with more than 24,000 species of vascular plants (fifth place), 1,010 species of reptiles (second place), 564 species of mammals (third place), 420 species of amphibians (fourth place) and 1,125 species of birds (eleventh place).More importantly, between 40% and 60% of all vascular plants are endemic to Mexico, as well as 69% of amphibians, 59% of reptiles, 30% of mammals, 11% of birds and 77% of cacti.

Mexicans have been taking advantage of this biodiversity for millennia. It was not until the 20th century when the great international demand for Mexican species became the reason for the legal and illegal overexploitation that brought many species to the brink of extinction, such as sea turtles, crocodiles, parrots, fish, cacti, tropical trees, etc.

In the 1980s, Mexico attempted to end this overexploitation by banning the export of all types of wildlife. However, Mexican authorities had very few resources to enforce this ban and illegal permits for the export of all types of wildlife by municipal, state and federal authorities abounded. In 1992, Mexico finally ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) treaty, which had the immediate effect of putting an end to all illegal export permits, as CITES Parties would only accept wildlife imports accompanied by a CITES permit issued by Mexico's designated CITES Management Authority. With CITES, illegal international trade in large shipments (cacti, parrots, sea turtle products, etc.) ended and smuggling of rare and endemic species for the U.S., European and Asian markets began. Illegal wildlife trade is not constant and demand changes over time for different species or species groups. Over the past two decades, demand for endemic reptiles has increased dramatically for two main markets: the pet trade market in the U.S. and Europe, and the food market in Asia. The latter focuses on aquatic turtles.

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Another type of illegal international trade that has increased in the last decade is that of high-value wildlife products. These are products for which consumer countries pay very high prices. So high, in fact, that organized crime considers them more profitable than the sale of drugs. For example, totoaba bladders, sea cucumbers, shark fins, reddish-colored tropical woods such as rosewood, etc.

On a national scale, illegal trade affects hundreds of species of animals and plants. There are four main types of trade, the first being the use of live animals for the pet trade or other uses such as falconry. The pet trade has cultural roots in Mexico's past and present, affecting parrots, songbirds, diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey, monkeys, and other small mammals such as coatis, raccoons, squirrels, etc.

Mexicans used to fear most reptiles as poisonous, and this fear included many types of lizards. The only lizards kept as pets were horned lizards. But this has changed, and in the last two decades, the keeping of reptiles as pets has grown exponentially, and even highly venomous snakes such as the rattlesnake are being bred and sold for the pet trade. The second type of trade also has its roots in the past and is using animals as food. This type of trade affects many reptiles such as sea turtles, aquatic turtles, tortoises, and iguanas, especially spiny-tailed iguanas. Tens of thousands of reptiles are illegally hunted each year for food.

Most wild mammals are hunted illegally for food, such as deer, rabbits, peccaries, rodents such as squirrels, agoutis or pacas, all kinds of opossums and even monkeys. Any bird larger than a pigeon is illegally hunted for consumption, as well as amphibians such as frogs, salamanders and, above all, axolotls.

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The third type of trade, although also rooted in the past, has increased due to international demand. It involves the use of products from animals and plants. Fur, leather, horns, claws, bones, skulls, paws, tails, shells, feathers, beaks, meat or powdered bones, leaves, roots, bark, stems, etc. are used to manufacture all kinds of articles of clothing, jewelry, for witchcraft and medicine, etc. Hundreds of species are affected and, unfortunately, the international Asian demand for some products has created enormous problems for some species.

The fourth type refers mainly to plant species as ornamental plants. Species such as cacti, cycads, beaucarneas (elephant's feet), crassulaceae, palms and even orchids were considered cheap and commonplace for most of the 20th century. Mexicans learned from international demand to admire them and in the late 1990s illegal collection of these wild plants skyrocketed.

The solution to all illegal wildlife trade is to reduce demand. The United Nations and CITES have issued Resolutions calling on all countries to conduct national campaigns to reduce demand for illegal species and their products to combat illegal wildlife trade. Teyeliz has been collaborating for decades with the Federal Attorney's Office for Environmental Protection and many NGOs to create the materials for such campaigns, which have reached millions of Mexicans. We have seen the results of the change in people's vision and how they are now more interested in participating in wildlife conservation and combating illegal trade

We know how to combat illegal trade and have been doing it for decades, but we need your help. Make a donation and help us put an end to the illegal wildlife trade.

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Help stop the illegal trade in wild animals and plants.


Photos: PROFEPA y Istock