Illegal trafficking in wildlife is a serious crime, but "nobody has reliable figures" to determine the scope of the problem, Jose Ramiro Rubio, assistant director of the federal prosecutor's office for environmental protection, Profepa, told Tierramerica. Rubio points out that Profepa has just 500 inspectors and that each one, for a monthly salary of $750, has to monitor species trade, logging and general compliance with environmental regulations.
Earmarked for the protection of wild animals from trafficking, "at most our yearly budget reaches one million pesos," or about $935,000, he said.
"We don't have the capacity to deal with problems of this magnitude. We would need an army. The issue is complex because of the size of the Mexican territory (1.9 million square kilometres) and its rich biodiversity," according to Rubio.
Mexico is one of the 15 members of the Group of Megadiverse Countries, created in 2002 by the nations that together account for 70 percent of the earth's diversity of fauna and flora. The others are Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa and Venezuela.
Although no official figures are available, the authorities estimate that species trafficking in Mexico is third only to drugs and arms trafficking.
Each year, Profepa seizes between 15,000 and 23,000 animals captured illegally, or about to leave the country or to be sold within Mexico, and arrests around 50 people per year for related crimes.
Mexico's vast territory, with the Atlantic to the east and the Pacific to the west, and with many routes out of the country, makes it difficult for inspectors to halt local and international trade in wildlife species, says Rubio.
However, Profepa has identified some 60 sites in the capital and in the central cities of Guadalajara and Puebla where trafficking is a serious problem.
In the south and east, where Mexico's jungles are found, illegal wildlife trade and hunting are especially harmful to jaguars, songbirds and ornamental birds, wild boars, spider monkeys and howler monkeys, crocodiles and other reptiles, as well as plants, including rare orchids.
In northern and central Mexico the species targeted for trafficking or illegal hunting are deer, mountain goats and lynx, as well as puma, macaws, aquatic birds, orchids, palms and cactus.
Parrots and other such birds are on the verge of disappearing as a result of trafficking, said Maria Elena Sanchez, president of Teyeliz, a non-governmental organization that fights this crime.
For every animal that reaches the hands of a buyer, it is estimated that another four die during capture or transport, and in addition the birds' nests and eggs are often destroyed, Sanchez told Tierramerica.
An extensive investigation published in 2007 by Teyeliz and Defenders of Wildlife in Mexico warns that in 10 to 15 years many species will have disappeared forever from this country.
For the vendor in the Sonora market, it is not difficult to avoid the Profepa inspectors. "They don't come by very often," said German.
The tents with animals for sale in this street market cover some 400 square metres. Dozens of parrots, parakeets, doves, and turkeys are kept in small cages. Also for sale are cats and dogs, iguanas and other lizards.
But most of the sellers say they can get just about any animal -- even in a few minutes -- as long as the buyer puts some money down up front.
The head of Teyeliz is calling for more inspectors and a bigger budget. Though she admits that "more than an army, what we need is to educate consumers not to buy endangered animals."
The government has never carried out an educational campaign on this issue. But Teyeliz and other groups aren't going to wait around -- with whatever resources they can get, they're planning to launch an awareness raising campaign this year, said Sanchez.
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Albion Monitor April
14, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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