Human Interest

Costa Rica probing links between wildlife trade, organized crime

San Jose, Sep 13 (EFE).- Costa Rican authorities are investigating links between the illegal wildlife trade and organized crime activities such as money laundering.

Alejandro Alpizar, an environmental crimes prosecutor, told the radio program of the federal Attorney General’s Office that crimes affecting wildlife are becoming more frequent in that Central American country, which contains around 6 percent of global biodiversity.

“There’s vigorous wildlife trade activity” which “gives rise to other crimes associated with cartels or organized groups” that launder assets to legitimize their proceeds, the prosecutor said.

Authorities in Costa Rica often rescue wild animals from captivity such as snakes, birds, turtles and felines like jaguars and margays, many of which are endangered species.

Cases of trafficking in insects and even small reptiles also have been detected at airports.

“For an animal to end up in a home, someone had to remove it from its habitat, which constitutes the crime of hunting,” the prosecutor said. “If someone sold it, that’s (illegal) trading, and if someone brought it in from another country, the crime is illegal importation.”

To protect its world-renowned biodiversity, Costa Rica a decade ago became the first Latin American country to ban hunting as a sport.

Shirley Ramirez, a wildlife biologist at the Environment and Energy Ministry, said for her part that removing wild animals from their habitats has severe consequences for them and for human beings.

“When they’re put in a cage, no matter how big it is, they can’t express their natural behaviors. That’s going to put the animal under constant stress, which is manifested in behavioral changes,” Ramirez said.

The biologist said animals in captivity very quickly lose the ability to return normally to their natural habitat.

“Every animal that’s confiscated must undergo a technical evaluation. Behavioral, physical and medical evaluations are carried out,” she said. “And once that hurdle has been cleared, a re-adaptation and rehabilitation process begins. But it’s a process that can take several months or even years.”

Ramirez said the species most threatened by captivity are parrots, parakeets and other small birds, as well as snakes. EFE

dmm/mc

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