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Latin America's Illegal Wildlife Trade to US Is Booming

Hannah K. Gold - VICE News
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January 4, 2016
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Inside the Illegal Wildlife Trade (The Humane Society of the United States )

When it comes to newsworthy stories about the illegal wildlife industry, Chinese demand for ivory or rhino horn tends to grab headlines. But often overlooked is American demand for illegal goods, which is fueling an enormous amount of wildlife trafficking in Central and South America.

Some 81,526 pounds of illegally traded wildlife were seized between 2004 and 2013, according to a report by the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. The most popular animals on the illegal market were queen conch, sea turtles, caimans, crocodiles, and iguanas. Officials also seized 47,914 pounds of illegal wildlife products, like meat, eggs, shoes, and leather goods.

The report is the first report to use extensive US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) data to quantify the size of the illegal wildlife trade between Latin America and the United States.

"Illegal markets often mirror legal markets," Rosa Indenbaum, co-author of the report, said. "The US is an economic powerhouse and it consumes the most resources at one of the fastest rates, so it's no surprise that the same goes for illegal products as well."

Defenders of Wildlife values the illegal wildlife industry at $7-23 billion per year globally, making it one of the most lucrative illegal activities in the world. The legal wildlife trade in the United States, according to the group, is estimated to be $6 billion annually, with illegal trade estimated to total $2 billion each year.

"As you might imagine, it's hard to get firm numbers on the amount of illegal trade, because whatever you've found, that's only the tip of the iceberg of what's really happening," co-author Alejandra Goyenechea said.

Read the rest at VICE News

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