The El Socorro Centre for Wildlife Conservation, a conservation NGO, says the illegal wildlife trade is a serious issue that must be dealt with urgently.

“Illicit trade in wildlife is a serious threat to local ecosystems and the survival of endangered and vulnerable species. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that during the past 40 years there has been a 58 percent decline in vertebrae population and an 81 percent decline in populations living in freshwater systems,” Ricardo Meade, director and founder of the NGO, said in a statement.

Meade said monkeys are the most widely traded animals. It is often smuggled into Trinidad and Tobago from Guyana or Venezuela.

“The wildlife trafficking problem is a major issue in Trinidad and Tobago and is considered one of the most lucrative forms of illicit international trade. The illegal wildlife trade is typically transcontinental, and, as highlighted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), virtually every country in the world plays a role as a source, transit, or destination of illicitly traded wildlife,” he added.

Meade explained the major reason why monkeys often have aggressive behavior is because of their past traumatic experience.

“Hunters will kill the mother and snatch the baby monkey, and that baby is looking into your face, the person who receives the monkey as a pet, and is literally seeing the blood of its mother pouring from your eyes because you are human just like the person who killed its mother,” he said.

He cautioned that it’s not safe letting monkeys roam free, especially because they carry diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.

Birds are also a big part of the illegal wildlife trade. Meade said the blue and gold macaw was no longer found in the country because of overhunting.

“Under a reintroduction project, 19 blue and gold macaws were brought in from Guyana, and some of those which were purchased illegally from Venezuela, Guyana or Colombia escaped and joined the 19 pairs, and this is how we now have blue and gold macaws once again,” Meade said. “It took quite an effort to reintroduce the bird and we are fortunate it existed somewhere else. Imagine if this did not happen, we would have lost this bird entirely, which happened with ocelots in Tobago.”

He said educating people from infant level is needed to change bad behavior and terrible cultural norms when it comes to illegal wildlife trade. He suggested involving young people in calling action.

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