Wildlife trade in Latin America: people, economy and conservation


Wildlife trade is among the main threats to biodiversity conservation and may pose a risk to human health because of the spread of zoonotic diseases. To avoid social, economic and environmental consequences of illegal trade, it is crucial to understand the factors influencing the wildlife market and the effectiveness of policies already in place. I aim to unveil the biological and socioeconomic factors driving wildlife trade, the health risks imposed by the activity, and the effectiveness of certified captive-breeding as a strategy to curb the illegal market in Latin America through a multidisciplinary approach. I assess socioeconomic correlates of the emerging international trade in wild cat species from Latin America using a dataset of >1,000 seized cats, showing that high levels of corruption and Chinese private investment and low income per capita were related to higher numbers of jaguar seizures. I assess the effectiveness of primate captive-breeding programmes as an intervention to curb wildlife trafficking. Illegal sources held >70% of the primate market share. Legal primates are more expensive, and the production is not sufficiently high to fulfil the demand. I assess the scale of the illegal trade and ownership of venomous snakes in Brazil. Venomous snake taxa responsible for higher numbers of snakebites were those most often kept as pets. I uncover how online wildlife pet traders and consumers responded to campaigns associating the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of 20,000 posts on Facebook groups, only 0.44% mentioned COVID-19 and several stimulated the trade in wild species during lockdown. Despite the existence of international and national wildlife trade regulations, I conclude that illegal wildlife trade is still an issue that needs further addressing in Latin America. I identify knowledge gaps and candidate interventions to amend the current loopholes to reduce wildlife trafficking. My aspiration with this thesis is to provide useful information that can inform better strategies to tackle illegal wildlife trade in Latin America

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