Mesoamerican Congress – What is it Saying about Illegal Trade of Exotic Wildlife?

A science conference called the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Consultation Congress is being held in Belize. Today and for the rest of the week, regional experts in biodiversity and the environment will be discussing issues threatening the ecosystem and making recommendations on regulations that can mitigate these challenges. Heavy topics such as the illegal trade of wildlife and the effects of climate change are on the agenda. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

A full week of technical presentations on a wide range of environmental issues and concerns is being held at the Ramada Belize City Princess. Environmentalists from across the Central American region, as well as Cuba and Colombia have converged in Belize to look at some urgent themes, including biodiversity conservation, the illegal trade in wildlife and climate change. Belize Healthy Reefs Coordinator Roberto Pott is the President of the Belize Chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Consultation.

Roberto Pott

Roberto Pott, President, Mesoamerican Society

“Similarly to the species and the habit, biologists look beyond the borders and the collaboration across borders is really what this congress try to provide an opportunity, a meeting place, and these are all volunteer organizers. I have to recognize the support that we get from the executive of the Belize chapter, who have full time jobs and they give of their time to do this. So really it’s a labor of love for a lot of biologists who are here to share their work, share their tricks of the trade and look at collaboration.”

The illegal trafficking of wildlife is a multimillion dollar trade on the black market. Both terrestrial and aquatic species are being exploited in this lucrative business. According to Adrian Reuter, there are some wildlife species that are worth more than the same weight in drugs or even diamonds.

Adrian Reuter

Adrian Reuter, Latin American Regional Coordinator, Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

“There are many efforts being taken to better understand biodiversity within this region. There are a lot of conservation efforts by different organizations, but if there are these huge threats of illegal trafficking is widespread, then all these efforts are being hammered all the time. So it is very important to take this into account. Right now illegal wildlife trafficking is within the five top illegal crimes in the world along with gun trafficking, human trafficking, drug trafficking. There’s a lot of money to be made by the criminals who see wildlife trafficking as a good opportunity to make a lot of money with little risk in most instances.”

There are laws such as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife) that regulate the international trade of exotic animals. Recently, the local branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs teamed up with the Belize Forest Department to strengthen and build capacity across government agencies that play an essential role in the fight against illegal wildlife and timber trafficking.

Nicole Auil-Gomez

Nicole Auil-Gomez, Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society

“In Belize, our issues relating to illegal wildlife traffic is local, regional and international and it affects both our terrestrial species of flora and fauna as well as our marine species. We know that there are incidents of illegal removing and taking conch, for instances to other countries outside of Belize and we know that in other cases, rosewood is being harvested and removed from Belize illegally. So this is an issue that covers both our marine seascapes and landscapes. So it is very important that all sectors take a look at it.”

The main objective of the Mesoamerican Congress is to get N.G.O.s and policymakers to participate in the solution.

Nicole Auil-Gomez

“We hope that the ministry and the supporters are able to push for a change to bring in and implement this new fisheries bill that’s been on the table for a little while now because that does modernize the legislation and it brings in harsher penalties because we are looking at penalties that are outdated. And the same is true for the terrestrial sector. We know that the Forestry Department will be doing an updating of the Wildlife protection Act and a part of that will be the implementation of the higher fees because we are looking at fees that are nothing.”

Roberto Pott

“One of the big objectives is to get Belizeans to participate and that’s why we put in the effort because this is a humongous task to organize an event, especially two weeks after a hurricane. And so we are grateful that the participants decided to make the trip even though they had seen that we had suffered the hit from a hurricane.”

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