Animals and plants, both exotic and commonplace, are regularly traded across borders and the extent of this illegal trade has been estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars. Along Belize’s common western border with Guatemala and most especially in the Chiquibul National Park and Forest Reserve, there is increasing numbers of poaching of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, scarlet macaws, parrots and jaguars and other big cats, in addition to the extraction of timber and xate and panning for gold. While environmental protection cannot be totally extricated from the larger political and economic question, Guatemala’s environmental authorities are working with Belize to try to put a stop to it. Roan McNab is director of Guatemala’s Wildlife Conservation Society, and at a half-day seminar in Belize City held on Monday he told the assembled press that what is more important than the value of the animals is the irreplaceability of their numbers in the wild and the ongoing effort to supply the hungry demands of more developed countries.
“Until this demand is reduced, source countries like Belize need to defend their flora and fauna or you will suffer great declines of key resources. They are selectively minded out. Keep in mind the story of the tigers; 70% of their habitat are now without tigers. Collectively in Latin America we are not well prepared. Our current knowledge about trafficking is extremely limited and the training of government and civil society is required to address these issues and there is some technology transfers that need to be used. How can the media and civil society help? Raise awareness about the issue, and we thank you for your presence here today. Avoid focusing on the value of the species; one of the key things that we ask the media is to not talk about how much the animals are worth here locally. that can actually drive the demand so that you very much for considering that. And inform about the impacts of trafficking of a species for example, for each parrot that is kept as a pet, eight usually die in atemptin to get that parrot into their household. For each monkey that is a pet, the mother was shot. The rise of increase pressure is coming and some will say that it is already here. Belize it is now time to prepare.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society has branches in both countries and is teaming up with the NGO responsible for protection of the Chiquibul, Friends for Conservation and Development, headed by Rafael Manzanero. Manzanero discusses plans for interventions on the issue.
“We also believe that public awareness is highly important and that capacity building for personnel on the ground at the regulatory agencies is also critical. The provision of a task force that has been the direct efforts from the Forestry Department to lead that particular taskforce. The sensitizing the justice system in anything that relates to environmental law, we certainly believe and understand that we must be in a much bold with higher fines in when dealing with trees and wild animals that are being extracted out. And tactical information, that is basically the men on the ground but having to be more tactical because people are tactical out there and we cannot be at the same rhythm or stay behind as they are developing much more of their tactics. We need to be much better on how to apprehend.”
The seminar featured participation from several wildlife related NGO’s and Government agencies from Belize led by the Forest Department. Negotiations continue on the bi-national strategy against wildlife trafficking.