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Luiz Bispo

Year-Prize: The 9th Eco-generation Environmental Essay Competition     Item: Fight against illegal trade in wildlife

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Freedom and Coexistence

Winner's name: Luiz Bispo (Brazil)
Prize: Honorable Mention

?Wait! Listen to me! Flying may not be my thing, but walking is!?
The little macaw named ?Blue? screams with fear of flying in the movie Rio. He has been highly domesticated as a pet for 15 years and is unable to fly. My favorite character from the film, Blue believes that the human home where he lives is a safer place than the jungle. I believe that most people think that their wild pet might be like Blue.
There are cultural norms in Brazil: ?xerimbabos? meaning, ?something beloved?. It refers to tamed wild animals, especially birds and monkeys. Surveys suggest, 30%of Brazilians have kept native wild species as pets, ranging from monkeys to turtles, anteaters to tropical birds, fresh and saltwater tropical fish, and hand-sized tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella).
As wildlife trafficking becomes a serious global issue, nations of the world are taking proactive and cooperative actions to protect endangered species. It is not surprising that Brazil, home to many diverse species, has been the target of wildlife smuggling. The Brazilian NGO RENCTAS(the National Network to Fight the Trafficking of Wild Animals) reports that more than 38million animals are taken from their natural habitat in Brazil each year by all types of wildlife trafficking (not include tropical fish or invertebrate). These animals are typically destined for zoos, private collections, the pet trade, etc. Also, nearly 83 %of the captured wild animals in the illegal domestic trade are birds. At least 627 Brazilian species are endangered due to poaching, which has negative effects on biodiversity in Brazil.
Being caught for illegal trade is not the only bad news. Just 4 million of the seized animals can be sold in the end due to the ill treatment during transportation and the process of being caught. Rural and indigenous communities around deforested areas are offered incentives to capture wild animals by traffickers. They are then smuggled in motorbikes, boats, buses, and small planes in cruel conditions for long trips from their home. Even worse, animals found and confiscated by customs officials and police are unlikely to be returned to the wild. To identify the original territories of seized animals is quite difficult since most are discovered far from their original habitats. These animals need expert help in order to be released safely without risking immediate recapture and to improve their chances of survival.

Why have these precious wild animals been a target for illegal trade? There are four types of illegal trafficking in Brazil. The first category is for products and souvenirs. For example, fashion accessories made from animal hide or seashells and items using various other animal parts such as teeth, bone or feathers are available for purchase. This usage is typically considered as tradition but not a crime by most of the population. The second type is demand for Brazilian traditional medicines. The third is bio-piracy. International companies or organizations exploit the local people?s knowledge and do not provide fair compensation for them. Finally, the largest category of poaching in Brazil is the pet market. In particular, the sale of many song birds, macaws, and other parrots, is prevalent in large cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

The Brazilian Environment Ministry (IBAMA) has provided wildlife breeders with licenses to sell these animals legally but these certificates are often forged or issued fraudulently with bribes. The lack of staff in wildlife centers in Brazil has also created a huge problem in managing, licensing and inspecting the great number of animal traders and breeders. In addition to that issue, weak environmental legislation and small fines for trafficking convictions encourage a large illegal black market trade in wildlife in Brazil.

Recently, we have seen that emerging infectious diseases can threaten human life. Inhumane conditions in transportation of trafficked animals and violent methods for capturing them can cause serious injury. If these animals are released in new regions without knowledge of their original habitat, it can disturb existing wild populations and could be the vector to spread disease even to humans. Furthermore, capturing certain species can threaten an otherwise healthy ecosystem. If some or all of a key species are removed from a particular area, remaining wildlife may become weak and vulnerable to disease, and also prevent them from fulfilling their specific role in ecological interaction. Culling only specific species can also obstruct passing on their unique gene combination which reduces genetic diversity among the remaining population.
The Brazilian NGO RENCTAS has focused on projects of environmental education aimed at children and adult. It has also published reports regarding animal trafficking in Brazil. The Brazilian population has become more aware of animal smuggling than before and environmental crime is now taken seriously as a major problem.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a ?pet? as a domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure. Domesticated animals and human can heal and help each other with companionship. However, wild animals are supposed to evolve over time in alignment with their changing environment. They are not meant for human amusement and deserve to thrive in their natural habitat for the sake of life itself.
There is hope that we can save wild species from illegal trafficking. First of all, we need to alter public perceptions of keeping wild animals as pets and stop these cultural habits. In addition to that, pay attention to the legal certification of purchased pets. If you suspect illegal trade in wildlife, you can refuse to purchase them and try to report the vendor to the media or to nonprofit organizations handling wild life trafficking.
?Birds need flying. Flying is?it?s freedom and not having to rely on anyone. Don?t you want that??
Jewel, the little macaw Blue's mate in the movie Rio, shows that their small bird cage is not the only world they can live in. Human beings are not the only creatures to live in this beautiful world. Respect for wild animals and living in harmony with them is essential.

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