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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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    Panama confronts illegal trafficking of animals

    ANCON, PANAMA (AP) – In a tropical forest beside the Panama Canal, two black-handed spider monkeys swing about their wire enclosure, balanced by their long tails. They arrived at this government rehabilitation centre after environmental authorities seized them from people who had been keeping them as pets.

    In the coming months, biologists and veterinarians will shift them to a diet mirroring what they would eat in the wild, help them re-learn skills to survive in the jungle and wean them from human contact.

    Panamanian authorities are trying to raise awareness about the dangers – to humans and wildlife – of keeping wild animals in their homes. This month, Panama hosted the World Wildlife Conference, where participants voted to tighten restrictions on the international trade in animals and plants.

    Black-handed spider monkeys are listed in the most endangered category of international species, and Panama’s Ministry of Environment say they are in “critical danger”.

    “People don’t understand they can’t buy a wild animal from someone who doesn’t have authorisation to sell it,” said Environment Ministry’s adviser on environmental crimes Felipe Cruz. “The environment can’t take any more. We’re at a critical point.”

    From January through September, Panama’s Attorney General’s Office had recorded 19 cases of wild species trafficking and 14 cases of extraction of species that were protected or in danger of extinction. Adviser to the Environment Ministry Shirley Binder, said the real extent of the problem could be greater.

    ABOVE & BELOW: Veterinarian holds a toucan that was given medical care prior to being released back into the wild; an ocelot follows a veterinarian after being given medical care before being released back into the wild; and a spider monkey swings inside a cage at a Ministry of Environment rehabilitation centre. PHOTOS: AP

    Earlier this year, the government introduced a catalogue with photographs and technical details to assist in the identification of the most commonly trafficked species. The plan was to distribute it to security, border and customs authorities nationwide.

    Panamanian law strictly limits the possession of wildlife. The Environment Ministry issues permits to zoos, breeding centres or for the raising and consumption of some sources of protein such as deer and iguana, but not for endangered species.

    Biologist Samuel Sucre operates one of those businesses, Natural Tanks, which has government permits allowing him to collect amphibians and reptiles from the wild and breed them for sale. Sucre said the government closed down some “ghost farming” operations.”These farms were claiming they were breeding the frogs, but in reality they were just field collecting them and then claiming that these were bred (on) their farm,” Sucre said.

    “The problem with the illegal trade in countries like mine, developing countries, people don’t understand the value of that resource,” Sucre said. The people who want to sell animals go to residents of rural areas who have very little income and offer payment per frog.

    He advocates instead for finding sustainable ways to commercialise some species so people can learn the value of the natural resources and make a living.

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