The illegal wildlife trade, including the poaching of animals for bush meat and the pet trade, is one of the major risks to species living in the Amazon region of Peru. And, until a fortnight ago, the epicenter of that illegal trade was found in a town called Pucallpa. The Bellavista market in the town was used openly by wildlife traffickers to sell both dead and live animals in huge numbers. Conservationists working in the area estimate that millions of individual animals, from birds, to reptiles to endangered mammals, will have passed through the market in its twenty years of operation.
The scenes in the market were heart-breaking; young, emaciated monkeys tied up next to where the bodies of other monkeys – perhaps their relatives – were being sold as food. Birds tightly packed in filthy cages, unable to spread their wings or move. At the end of each market day, the carcasses of those animals – some of them highly endangered – who were not sold or who had simply perished from the terrible conditions, were simply thrown in the trash. Shockingly, the market was managed by the local authority in the area, who turned a blind eye to the problem; thus sending a clear message that wildlife trafficking could simply continue without consequence.
But the nightmare suffered by so many innocent animals came to an end two weeks ago, when the market which had been the site of so much suffering was not only closed, but demolished and reduced to rubble.
The move was thanks, in no small part, to the brave work of conservationists from the Peruvian-based NGO, Neotropical Primate Conservation. Following three years of the team monitoring the market, carrying out demonstrations and public awareness activities and repeatedly reporting the illegal activity, the authorities were forced to step in and take action.
Dr. Noga Shanee, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to close the market told One Green Planet, “It has been three years of fighting to see this awful place closed down, but we were determined. Just a few moments in that place and seeing the way in which the animals were suffering – and in such huge numbers – there was no way we were going to give up.”
More Work Ahead
The closure of the market is great news for Peruvian wildlife but, says Dr. Shanee, it is not the end of the illegal trade in the area. The central market was fed by a number of hidden warehouses which were likely used to stockpile animals brought straight from the forest. These warehouses are in secret locations and the team continues to work to ensure that they too are located and closed down. That the main market has been closed, however, will create serious obstacles for the traffickers and the importance of both the closure of the site itself and the fact that the local authority finally acted should not be underestimated.
Dr. Shanee added, “On the day that we found out that the market had been demolished, I went there and walked right over the top of the rubble – it was a fabulous feeling knowing that no more animals will suffer there.”
But there is no time for the team to rest as, no sooner had the dust settled on Bellavista market, NPC turned its sights onto another illegal market; this time in the Peruvian city, Iquitos. Wildlife trafficking in Peru is a devastating and dangerous trade, but successes such as those won by the NPC team in recent weeks goes to show the impact that a small group of dedicated people can have when they refuse to give in.
All image source: NPC