Thursday, December 17, 2015

Peru Shuts Down Notorious Wildlife Market

credit: NPC via
Bellavista Street has operated as a flourishing wildlife market for over twenty years where wild animals were held captive in unsanitary, cramped conditions until they met an even worse fate after being sold. Think of it as a nightmarish concentration camp for animals. Activists and health officials have finally succeeded in closing Bellavista. The market, located in the city of Pucalpa, was razed to the ground by bulldozers last month [photo]. Veterinarians and members of Wildlife Conservation Society's Wildlife Health Policy Program visited the market repeatedly 2007 and 2012. What they found was abhorrent. They eventually convinced vendors to let them collect dead animals, collect samples from those still alive, and count the captives.

Despite that selling wildlife is strictly prohibited under Peruvian law, the market sold on average 42 animals a week, some of which are endangered species. The investigators discovered a wide range of diseases in the market ranging from yellow fever and hemorrhagic fever. Some of these were found in monkeys which could easily spread to humans because of our shared genetic heritage. One of the reasons officials belated decided to act is because of the threat the market posed to public health. Vendors show a extreme lack of human care for their living inventory. The market also served as a sort of callous showcase for animals secretly stored elsewhere in the city. At least four warehouses were known to researchers who avoided entering them to preserve their undercover work. It was clear to the researchers from their 'body counts' that corrupt officials were allowing some animals to 'disappear' into a shadow world of rapacious wildlife merchants who business it is to provide any rare species to a willing buyer. The fact that Bellavista was allowed to operate in the open on municipal land for over twenty years speaks testaments about the integrity of Peru's officials as well as the attitude of Peruvians towards their wild heritage. Although the market was destroyed in the middle of the night, no vendors were arrested.

A new market has been opened, but vendors must be registered, comply with rules, and the market is covered with a single entrance making illegal sales more difficult. The overdue destruction of Bellavista is a welcomed development, but Peru's participation in a robust, illegal and international wildlife trade is by no means at an end. For pictures of some the rescued animals go to Mongabay.