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Mexico's Hidden Secret

Wildlife trafficking is “a global problem involving the deliberate and illegal transport of wildlife across international borders.” The trade known as the “illegal wildlife trade” makes $8 billion to $21 billion in profits every year. Trafficked wildlife are stolen from the wild and placed in cruel and inhumane confinements to remain hidden during transport via a traveler’s suitcase or in their possession, air cargo, or mail. Many enter and are sold in the “black market” which is an underground marketplace where illegal trade and transactions take place.  

Recognized as a “megadiverse”, Mexico is known for its biodiversity in both plants and animals. Mexico accounts for 10% out of the 60% to 70% of the world’s biological diversity. The illegal wildlife trade has ruined the country’s biodiversity and has pushed several species around the world toward extinction due to exploitation, with illegal trade being the common source.

Facebook and Facebook Messenger are social media platforms used by buyers and sellers in the illegal wildlife trade. People are required to join public and private groups where sellers post and provide information to buyers about the species being sold or traded and the price. When a buyer purchases a species, sellers further promote their business by announcing they provide immediate delivery via mail or in person. The Center for Biological Diversity conducted an undercover investigation that confirmed much of the wildlife sold was trafficked. The investigator at the center made a post and requested some of Mexico’s most seized species to further the investigation into the business. The requested species were a keel-billed toucan, a howler monkey, an orange-fronted parakeet, and a sloth. Using Facebook Messenger, a man named Pedro living in Durango, Mexico offered a keel-billed toucan for $600, a howler monkey for $900, and a shipping fee of $50 for each. Ricardo, a seller from Cuernavaca, Morelos, offered an in-person delivery of 10 keel-fronted parakeets for a total of $530. Even though there has been a ban on importing, exporting, and selling this species since 2008, around 60,000 keel-fronted parakeets die due to the trade each year.

Many exotic animal groups began making offers regarding the post made by the investigator. These species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Mexican law. Permits are required to import to and exported out of Mexico. 

In Mexico, sloths are the most valued exotic animal that are illegally trafficked. Most sloths are ripped away from their mothers at a young age. Their claws are cut to prevent hurting humans, they are subject to cruel living conditions and abuse, and approximately 80% to 90% of trafficked sloths do not survive. Sloths use their claws to hang, crawl and generally move. Without claws, their movement and grip become affected. An “alleged police officer” in Mexico, offered to illegally sell a 1-week-old baby sloth, still attached to its mother, across the border into Tamaulipas for $1,750. Initially, the offer was $2,000, but he reduced the price to $1,750 due to illegally crossing the border.

The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online is involved with several organizations and tech companies striving to reduce wildlife trafficking on the internet social media platforms, and e-commerce websites.  In 2021, the organization has blocked or removed over 11 million posts regarding illegal wildlife, increased member companies to aid in the goal to reduce online wildlife trafficking, and 11,000 listings of illegal wildlife have been reported to members of the company through the organizations Cyber Spotter program and is constantly working to bring awareness to the public regarding prevention and ways to report wildlife trafficking online.

Edited by: Kavya Venkateshwaran

Photo by: Center for Biological Diversity

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