Wildlife Trafficking: The Disturbing Rise of Narcos’ Illegal Zoos in Ecuador

2023-10-21 19:27:44

Published21. October 2023, 9:27 p.m.

In Ecuador: A new cruel fashion among drug traffickers

Like the late Colombian cocaine baron Pablo Escobar, Ecuadorian narcos set up illegal home zoos as a symbol of their social status.

A small spotted cat, in Quito on October 2, 2023, after being seized in a rural area of ​​the Ecuadorian capital by the Ministry of the Environment.

AFP

In May, Ecuadorian police discovered the distressing sight of two endangered felines perched on a tree trunk surrounded by a cage. They were being held on property owned by Wilder Sanchez Farfan, aka “Gato” (the cat), a suspected narco linked to the Mexican Jalisco New Generation cartel and wanted in the United States. He was arrested in Colombia in February.

Besides the jaguars, police also found parrots, parakeets and other exotic birds at his ranch believed to have been imported from China and South Korea. According to Darwin Robles, head of the environmental protection unit of the Ecuadorian police, the phenomenon is relatively new and coincides with the rise of drug trafficking in the country in recent years.

“Where there is drug trafficking, […] there will be wildlife trafficking.” The goal? “Demonstrate their power, their purchasing power, their economic capacity”

Darwin Robles, head of the environmental protection unit of the Ecuadorian police

Power and purchasing power

Police seized more than 6,800 wild animals in 2022 and nearly 6,000 in 2021 in the country, one of the most biodiverse in the world. Wedged between Colombia and Peru, major cocaine producers, Ecuador has recently gone from being a simple transit stop to becoming a hub for drug trafficking, with an explosion in crime.

The jaguars and birds found on the “el Gato” property were taken to rehabilitation centers. In most cases, returning to their natural habitat proved impossible. Police also found turtles, snakes, furs and animal heads on other traffickers’ properties.

Owning a spotted cat, for example, is usually a first step, but having a jaguar is much more prestigious – as is owning large properties, luxury cars, works of art, jewelry or even surrounding yourself with women with a large chest, explains this manager. In Ecuador, wildlife trafficking is punishable by up to three years in prison, much less than in neighboring countries.

Monkeys, parrots…

After Escobar was shot dead by Colombian police in 1993, his private collection of flamingos, giraffes, zebras and kangaroos was placed in zoos. But a herd of hippos, left to its own devices, reproduced uncontrollably, becoming an invasive species and a real headache for the authorities responsible for environmental protection.

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A parrot, seized with other wild animals by the national police in a residence during a drug trafficking operation, Quito, October 2, 2023.

AFP

At the Tueri Wild Animal Hospital in Quito, wild cats, monkeys, porcupines, parrots and owls are treated after being victims of trafficking. Many of them arrive malnourished or injured. According to clinic staff, only one in five recover sufficiently to return to their natural habitat. Many do not survive the ordeal. The others, unable to live in nature, will end their days in shelters. The traffickers do not realize the harm they are doing, underlines the head of the WCS. “Having a monkey in your home means that you have pushed a hunter to kill your family.”

The Alado Ilalo Garden in Quito is one of the shelters that welcome animals that cannot be reintroduced into the wild. “We have animals who arrive with their wings and claws amputated and who have suffered deep psychological damage,” explains Cecilia Guana, who cares for the center’s parrots and other birds, who have no other future “than remaining caged in places like this”.

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(AFP)

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