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Wednesday, November 5, 1997 Published at 23:49 GMT

Despatches: Americas
Timothy Ross
From Bogota

A report released by the Colombian Minister of the Environment shows that this South American country is one of the world's richest in the variety of animal species but is also one of the countries most exploited by illicit animal traffickers, whose depredations are putting dozens of species into danger of extinction. From Bogota, Timothy Ross reports:

In Colombia's Amazon region alone, seven-million creatures every year are captured, smuggled out and sold abroad. Parrots, toucans and macaws, the golden lion tamarin, marmosets, ocelots and margay cats, even baby alligators, are victims of a savage traffic. Large areas of jungle are stripped of every living thing. The bigger animals are packed into boxes and often flown out on the same illegal flights used for smuggling cocaine because, as one animal trafficker said, pound for pound parrots pay better than drugs. The endangered scarlet macaw can be bought in Leticia, on the Amazon river, for $20 to £50 but in New York it can fetch £5,000 or more, if of course it arrives alive, for the report by the Minister of the Environment says that far more than half of the animals die on route. And of course every one that is killed or taken from its habitat reduces the chances of an endangered species surviving. On the list of animals whose trading is internationally banned are 49 Colombian species in serious danger of extinction, but enforcement of the international agreement is very weak. European authorities have intercepted some shipments and last year nearly 200 parrots and macaws were brought back to Colombia after being seized by Belgian customs. Animals that are confiscated are taken to a centre near Bogota run by the London-based World Society for Protection of Animals for rehabilitation and return to the wild, a slow and difficult process for birds that were captured from the nest have often never learned to find their own food and have to be taught to eat wild seeds and fruits. There are hundreds of dazzlingly beautiful birds in Colombia, the rose-faced parrot, the russet-throated puff bird, a total of 1805 known species, more than any other country. But if the animal traffickers are not stopped, says the report, many will soon only be photographs in bird books."

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