Undercover Investigation Exposes Wildlife Trafficking In Mexico; Imperiled Species For Sale In Digital Marketplaces On Social Media

A new report from the Center for Biological Diversity released last week finds that the trafficking of imperiled wildlife is widespread across Mexico. Species such as jaguars, sloths, howler monkeys, and crocodiles are traded openly in a robust digital marketplace aided by social media.

An undercover investigation carried out by a Center associate between May and August of 2022 confirmed the extent of the problem and exposed traders’ methods. Lax government enforcement, a lack of political will to address the problem, and weak social media oversight all contribute to the illegal wildlife market and ensure access for buyers and sellers.

“It is shockingly easy to buy a wild animal illegally in Mexico,” Alex Olivera, senior Mexico representative at the Center, said in a statement. “All you need is a social media account and a bit of money. Once animals end up in the illegal pet trade, the odds of them being mistreated and malnourished are high. As more and more imperiled animals are plucked from their habitats for trade, it gets harder for these struggling populations to recover in the wild, where they belong.”

A significant amount of the wildlife trade in Mexico happens in public and private Facebook groups, despite the platform’s stated policies prohibiting the “buying or selling of animals or animal products.” The report documents illegally caught animals for sale, and the trade is open and easy to access.

The illegal animal trade also occurs in traditional public markets within Mexico, alongside vendors selling vegetables, flowers, clothes, and other everyday goods. The markets employ lookouts to prevent shoppers from taking photographs and alert sellers to any behavior that would threaten trade, including asking suspicious questions.

The Center’s investigator found that legally sanctioned wildlife facilities also sometimes provide cover for black market trade. These include wildlife conservation management units such as zoos, hatcheries, animal sanctuaries, and other entities that are permitted by the government to deal with live animals. But these operations have little oversight and frequently sell species not sanctioned by their official permits.

The Center provided an uncensored copy of the report to the Mexican public prosecutor and filed an investigatory complaint against the alleged traffickers. The report contains audio, videos, and social media conversations in which species, prices, and methods of trade were exposed, which serves as evidence of trafficking.

“Traffickers are basically operating in the open,” concluded Olivera. “Government and tech companies need to pay attention and take urgent action to save animals from this growing illegal trade.”

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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