Monday, November 10, 2008

Monkeys and parrots pouring from the jungle....

A Three-toed Sloth for sale in the Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

She was angry
The woman behind the table looked decidedly displeased, so displeased that I felt a little frightened. But what could she do? Probably nothing, so I took the photos of the sloth for sale anyway. I knew I was being rude - she was probably just trying to support her family, or maybe the sloth wasn't even hers. But how could I not take pictures? Especially when a local policeman was playing with the sloth, shaking hands with it, unconcerned about the legality of a sale. After a minute or two, my Peruvian friend Cesar told me "enough" with the photos, and I stopped. We were in his hometown of Iquitos, Peru, and naturally, he didn't want to antagonize the locals. So we moseyed on.

We were tooling around the Belen outdoor market, a huge daily gathering of individual vendors, on the bank of the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru. Belen is a low-income area at one end of Iquitos. The informal market begins at the waterfront in Belen and spreads uphill. Vendors at the market sell items brought in from villages along the Amazon: crafts, bushmeat, rainforest fruits, nuts, vegetables, animal and plant parts used as traditional medicines....and lots of wildlife. Some of the sellers are villagers, others are middlemen.
A young Spider Monkey in the Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

 Baby spider monkey fresh from the jungle, awaiting a buyer
As Cesar and I moved away from the woman offering the sloth, we came immediately upon a woman selling a juvenile Spider Monkey that was tied to her small table with a strip of blue cloth. The seller sat behind the table in black shorts and a pink top, chatting with a barefooted teen on the floor, oblivious to my camera. I paused to take the little monkey's picture....then we spotted the tamarins and marmosets for sale farther down the aisle. Most of these tiny primates were immature and in cages, some were tethered to tops of cages. Others were perched on human shoulders, to show off their pet-appeal.
An adult Pygmy Marmoset, among the world's smallest primates, on display in Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

The price for one of Belen market's immature Saddle-backed Tamarins in the pictures below? The equivalent of $1.60 each (5 Peruvian soles). (photo by Sally Kneidel)
Saddle-backed Tamarins (photos by Sally Kneidel)

Tamarins for sale at $1.60 
I was stunned at the price of the tamarins. These caged youngsters had probably been captured by shooting their mothers, the only way to bring a tamarin and her clinging infant out of the treetops. The young ones might survive a life as a solitary pet in an Amazonian village, but if smuggled abroad, their chances for survival were low. Seeing the young tamarins grimacing in the cages - that's when I really understood the meaning of wildlife as a commercial commodity. I asked the proprietor of the first tamarin cage, a teenage girl, to please put a water dish in the cage. She seemed puzzled about why that would matter, but did as I asked.

Parrots slumped
Primates may have been the most common living animal in the market...but the parrots for sale were close behind. Some were adult parrots, perched atop cages. Others were hatchlings laid together in little baskets lined with cloth, so young that they had only their "pin feathers" - the beginning sprouts of feathers that look like little spikes. The nestlings were too young to sit up straight, but were slumped on the floor of the basket or leaning against the side for support.
Parrot nestlings for sale at Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

In pic above, Amazonian parakeets and/or parrotlets for sale at the Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

In above pic, adult Orange-winged Amazon Parrot (Amazon amazonica) for sale, Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

Among impoverished Amazonians, wild animals are commodities
The Belen market is disturbing, but it's also fascinating - for what it represents about the conflict between the needs of expanding human populations and the long-term prospects for wildlife populations. In Belen, wildlife is a forest product that can bring in a few soles; it's a resource the people along the Amazon have always had. Families from remote villages teetering on the brink of subsistence bring to the market whatever they can sell or trade. Can I blame them? If my kids had no medical care or clean water or functional school, would I not sell what I could to provide for them? The plight of Amazonian wildlife is sad and even infuriating for me, given the mass extinctions that most scientists agree we're headed for. But the poverty that drives people to deplete their most valuable natural resources - the rainforest wildlife and trees - is equally distressing.
Unloading items for the Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

Locals may travel for days to the Belen market in handmade boats
Cesar and I walked out from under the tarps covering the market and down to the water's edge for a breeze, to escape the mosquitos and fishy stink of the market. Dozens of boats were pulled up to the muddy shore, their owners unloading bananas, dried fish, animal skins, parrots, etc. Families may travel by boat for days to bring their offerings to the Belen market. Those who had finished unloading paused for lunch, sitting on crates, a plate with a banana and a roasted piranha balanced on one knee. An intact armadillo was roasting over a fire smoldering in a rusty steel drum.

Lunch roasting: armadillo and bananas (photo by Sally Kneidel).

I'm guessing that most of the bushmeat in the Belen market is consumed by local people - the turtle eggs and turtle meat, the armadillos, the dried agoutis, the peccaries, the dried and fresh fish. Most of what we saw was too perishable to travel far. There was no ice in sight.

Dried agoutis for sale in Belen, above (photo Sally Kneidel).

Turtle meat for sale in Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel)

Dried fish for sale in the Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

Animal parts as traditional medicines
Local people are probably the main consumers of the animal parts sold as medicine, too, in the Belen market. Probably people all up and down the river from Iquitos shop there for traditional remedies. These medicinal animal parts - bones, skin, eyes, penises, organs - are sold mostly in the form of powders or liquids. Some items are dried and intact. In the Belen market, the medicine booths occupied a whole long aisle, and the aisle was jammed with local customers. Each booth offered hundreds of bottles and baggies of once-living material. Many of the medicinal plants they offered, ground and dried, do have healing value - many modern medicines prescribed by MDs were originally derived from tropical plants.

But animal parts are a different matter. Most of the animal parts offered at these booths have traditionally been thought to offer the customer the perceived qualities of the animal being consumed. For example, eating owl eyes might be thought to improve failing vision.
Above: One of many traditional-medicine booths in Belen market, selling animal and plant parts used traditionally as medicine (photo by Sally Kneidel).

Many of the bottled items at the booths in Belen had flashy labels that offered enhanced virility or sexual performance. Aside from the bottles and baggies, the traditional-medicine booths offered whole anaconda skins, jaguar skins, raptor feathers, viper heads, and dolphin jaws for sale, too. Maybe these whole items are thought to bestow some sort of status or power on the owner - I don't know. Or perhaps these are the wares that make their way to someone's den in the United States.

A viper head for sale in a traditional-medicine booth in Belen market (photo by Sally Kneidel).

So the meats, eggs, and the "medicinal" animal parts probably stay pretty local. But what about the living animals? What about the parrots, the primates, the baby coatis, the anteaters, the sloths we saw for sale? Where are they headed?
A pet coati in Belen (photo by Sally Kneidel)

Animals smuggled into U.S. like drugs
Thousands of animals every year are smuggled into the United States from Latin America for the pet trade. They are brought into the U.S. the same way drugs are carried in - in suitcases, in the trunks of cars, packed into crates disguised as something else. I don't know how many come from Iquitos, or Manaus, a Brazilian city on the Amazon. I do know that once the animals are in the United States, selling them is easy.

I picked up a few copies of "Animal Finders Guide" while researching our book Going Green. Animal Finders Guide is a weekly newsprint magazine that advertises wildlife for sale in the United States. Its pages offer coatis, marmosets, tamarins, capuchins, baby spider monkeys, parrots.....even camels, zebras, and chimpanzees! These are not "zoo to zoo" sales, but individuals selling to roadside menageries, pet owners, research labs, or shooting farms (where trophy hunters pay a fee to shoot exotic wildlife). I called a guy in Texas who had placed an ad in AFG selling chimpanzees from his home. He said if I wanted to buy one of his chimps, he would drive to meet me halfway. No paperwork needed, he said. Each issue of Animal Finders Guide carries ads not only for individual animals, but for wildlife auctions across the Midwest, such as the infamous "Woods and Waters." Autumn is a peak time for unloading animals at auctions, because their upkeep is more expensive in winter.

What can we do?
There is so much we can do, it's hard to know where to start. The biggest threat to world wildlife is loss of habitat, and climate change will become the biggest driver of habitat loss in the years ahead. Curb your own emissions. Take our carbon-emissions test and get a grip on your contribution to that problem. Eat less meat and fewer animal products. According to the United Nations, the "livestock sector" creates more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector.

Support nonprofits that are working to help people in developing nations pursue sustainable livelihoods, livelihoods that don't involve the overharvesting of forest "products" such as trees and wildlife. Ecotourism can provide sustainable livelhoods. When ecotourists (Americans, Europeans, Japanese, etc.) choose locally-owned lodging, and and hire local people as boatmen, drivers, and forest guides or birding guides, local communities have more incentive to preserve and protect their forests and wildlife. When you travel, try to direct your money into the pockets of local owners, rather than international chains.

Supporting organizations that educate women and offer microloans to working women not only improves the quality of life for families and communities, it also supports conservation goals. When women have opportunites, birthrates decline, meaning less drain on limited natural resources. Consider making donations to organizations like H3O that make microloans to impoverished women to help them start home-based employment, such as making and selling crafts or sewing or opening small shops.

Looking for a pet
If you want a pet, get a cat or dog, ideally from your local Humane Society. Don't buy a bird, any bird, whether bred in captivity or wildcaught. Even buying birds bred in captivity encourages the popularity of birds as pets. If you must have a bird or reptile, get one from a bird or reptile sanctuary that takes in abandoned pets (locate by googling). Don't buy primates! They don't make good pets. If you love monkeys, donate to an organization that supports conservation of their native habitat. Consider contributing to nonprofits such as TRAFFIC, World Parrot Trust, and Defenders of Wildlife that are working hard to slow the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts - the 3rd biggest blackmarket trade in the world, after drugs and weapons.

We're not powerless. Americans have more power for change, with our charitable contributions, our travel selections, our consumer spending, than any other group in the world. Exercise your power, and choose selectively. If you need some gut-level motivation, take a trip to the Amazon, and stroll through the market in Belen. You'll find the live-animal aisles on the lowest tier, with the mud and mosquitos.

Links to some of my previous posts about primates:
(to find others, enter "primates" in the search bar above)
Angry chimp reveals "uniquely human" trait

Almonds or pizza? Capuchins are smarter than we thought

Exciting new discovery: chimps' short-term memory is better than humans'

Chimps share the human trait of altruism

Monkeys can estimate numbers as well as Duke students

U.S. labs import thousands of wild-caught primates

Chimps and gibbons have human elements to their speech

Research shows older females preferred as mates

Top 6 ways to protect wildlife from commercial trade

Wildlife trade, forestry, and the value of activism

Keywords:: wildlife trade Iquitos, Belen market, primate trade, parrot trade, trade in parrots, illegal wildlife trade, wildlife parts, bushmeat, TRAFFIC, Going Green, Veggie Revolution, Sally Kneidel, World Parrot Trust


Skye Donald said...

What can we do? Don't buy or keep wild animals as pets! Stick to the domesticated companion animals and livestock: there's lots to choose from. Lobby all levels of government to ban the sale and the keeping of wild animals. Lobby your federal government to enforce existing rules on illegal importation of wild animals. From turtles (even red-eared sliders!) to parrots to primates to big cats to wolves, none of these animals should be kept as pets.

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

You're right Skye
Donald - thank you for your comment.

bugsy007bond said...

I plan to travel and volunteer in Iquitos April-May next year.
Do you have any animal welfare related charities that may accept two womens assistance?

bugsy007bond said...

Hi there.

We are two women travelling to Iquitos April-May 2014.
Do you know of any animal welfare related charities that may appreciate our help?

bugsy007bond said...

Hi we are two women arriving in Iquitos April-May 2014. Do you know of any animal welfare related charities that may accept our offer to help out?

bugsy007bond said...

I plan to travel and volunteer in Iquitos April-May next year.
Do you have any animal welfare related charities that may accept two womens assistance?