Wildlife trafficking is thought to be the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world, after drugs and weapons, worth an estimated $10 billion a year, according to the US State Department. Birds are the most common contraband; the US State Department estimates that two million to five million wild birds, from hummingbirds to parrots to harpy eagles, are traded illegally worldwide every year. Millions of turtles, crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles are also trafficked, as well as mammals and insects.
Amazonian countries are vulnerable to wildlife trafficking because of their extraordinary biodiversity e.g. Ecuador has about 1,600 species of birds compared to the entire continental United States with 900. Accurate data about the illegal trade in animals and plants are hard to come by. Brazil is the Amazonian nation with the most comprehensive information; its Institute of Environment and Natural Resources cites estimates that at least 12 million wild animals are caught and trafficked there each year.
A region with such a high degree of endemism as the Amazon is an important provider of wildlife and wildlife products for the international market. “Wildlife is by far the most important commercial Non-Timber Forest Product in Guyana and the country’s wildlife exports are significant on a global scale” (Van Andel et al., 2003, p.78). Guyana and Suriname are the only South American countries to legally export wild animals, leading to wildlife smuggling from other Amazon countries into the two countries.
This page is part of our series of articles on the Amazon System, emerging out of the experience of Dr Andrea Berardi, a Lecturer in Environmental Information Systems at The Open University to support the BBC Two series I Bought a Rainforest. See the full reference list for these articles.
Dr Berardi is a co-investigator on Project COBRA. COBRA is researching ways to integrate community solutions within policies addressing escalating social, economic and environmental crises, through accessible information and communication technologies.