By Paula Bayarte
Iquitos, Peru, Dec 31 (EFE).- Chunks of alligator with the scales still attached, pairs of tropical birds in cages and living giant tortoises are all on offer at the main market in this city in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.
“The Amazon region of Peru is a source of extraction of animals that reach the coast and the Andean zone and abroad. The demand exists and our strategy at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is to prod authorities to increase detection efforts,” the organization’s Rosa Vento tells EFE.
One of the authorities responsible for detection is Paul Arostegui, regional coordinator of Peru’s Serfor forest and wildlife service, who says that some smugglers transport their illicit cargo across the porous and mainly unguarded borders with Brazil and Colombia.
But most of the traffic is bound for Lima.
Typically, smugglers will travel by boat from otherwise inaccessible spots deep in Amazonia until they arrive at towns in the interior with roads.
After arriving in the capital, the illegal wares find their way onto outbound ships in the nearby port of Callao.
“The coast is the strong market, and from the coast to the world,” Arostegui tells EFE.
Some species are sought after as food, while others for their ostensible medicinal properties. There is also a market for exotic pets and for tusks, shells and hides.
“For the pot!,” a vendor at the Belen market in Iquitos replies when asked whether the two live giant tortoises she has on display are meant to be pets or dinner.
Amid produce, toys and cleaning products, the visitor sees mounds of meat from alligators, deer, rodents and wild boar – all elements of the cuisine of Peruvian Amazonia.
Customs and folk medicine also drive the trade in endangered species.
Vento cites the example of an endangered frog native to Lake Titicaca, which Peru shares with neighboring Bolivia, that is trafficked to cities with large communities of migrants from the Titicaca area, including Lima, Arequipa and Tacna.
“They attribute to it curative properties such as the recovery of sexual vigor, that it heals asthma and bronchial problems or that it elevates the proportion of iron (in the blood), but none of these properties has been confirmed. We only know that given the high pathogenicity of its content, it causes intestinal problems,” she says.
Neither Peru nor any of its neighbors is doing enough to protect endangered species, according to Vento.
“It’s important that authorities understand the strong link that exists between wildlife conservation and future generations,” she says. “Biodiversity provides food, eco-system services, the quality of pure air, the conservation of the oceans and the forests.”