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Traffic of Wild Animals in Brazil

By Francisco Carrera.
Attorney at Law, Legal Advisor to RENCTAS- Rede Nacional de combate ao Tráfico de Animais Silvestres (National Network to Combat the Trafficking of Wild Animals), Master in Urban Law from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro), post-graduate in Environmental Auditing and Investigation.

The essay below was originally published by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreigner Relations. The text was adapted for publication on the internet.

More than 6 years after the enactment of Law 9605/98 (Law on Environmental Crimes), the situation regarding wild animal trafficking is still relatively bleak. By the same token, we can identify quite promising advances in the institutions devoted to combating this activity, which is criminal and threatens our planet’s natural balance.
Every Sunday a blatant example of this illegal trade is on display in Duque de Caxias, in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where a large open-air fair is held. A stroll through the fair reveals a wide variety of products for sale, from pirated CDs, clothing, basketwork, food, decorative plants, crabs, and, finally, wild, domestic, and exotic animals.

The situation witnessed by the visitor to the fair depends on whether there are enforcement agents in the area. If there is a police presence, wild animals are not placed on display for sale. Rather, they are kept in the cages designated for the exotic and domestic animal exhibit. Meanwhile, however, children and adolescents, protected by their status as juveniles, make their way through the fair discreetly advertising the wild animals for sale, referring to them by their colloquial names and quoting their respective prices.

Brazilian bird
Photo: IBAMA

Upon identifying an interested buyer, the young person takes the potential customer to see the desired wild animal, which is usually housed in a warehouse located at a considerable distance from the fair.
Trafficking activities are conducted as nonchalantly as possible, and thousands of wild animals are sold without sanction or the application of the provisions set forth in the Law on Environmental Crimes.

Clearly, these circumstances demonstrate the need to provide extensive and diffuse environmental education in Brazil aimed primarily at eradicating the wild animal trade and making the population aware that continued commission of the crime set out in art. 29 of Law 9605/98 will only serve to promote further trafficking.
The work of third sector institutions, police academies, and above all international organizations is essential for changing the behavior of citizens, who, spurred by the beauty of and affection for wild animals, give preference to illegal trafficking over establishments duly licensed by the government.
The motivation to illegally purchase of wild animals can also be traced to specific harmful and criminal acts committed against these innocent creatures. Clipped wings, mutilation, eyes burned with cigarettes, marks on the skin, and common practices such as bathing marmosets (sagüis) in peroxide to sell them as golden lion tamarins (mico leão dourados), have a major impact on customers, who are driven more by emotion than pocketbook considerations, resulting, tragically, in the illegal purchase of animals.

It is evident that the laws governing environmental crimes in Brazil have promoted a change in the behavior that prevailed prior to their passage. Imbued with a new awareness, citizens today stop to consider their actions in light of the sanctions contained in law. On the other hand, others, backed by specific legal circumstances and at times counseled by jurists who choose to ignore their ethical obligations, take advantage of loopholes in the law, developing and perfecting practices that greatly facilitate efforts to render the legislation inapplicable.
There is ample evidence to demonstrate the positive effects produced by the Law on Environmental Crimes. The first is the resurgence of wild birds in regions located near urban centers. Flocks of birds such as the sayaca tanager (Thraupidae Sayaca) and the palm tanager (Thraupidae Palmarum), which at one time were sold by traffickers, can now be seen along Avenida Rio Branco in downtown Rio de Janeiro.
Rufous bellied thrushes (Thurdae Rufiventris), distinguished by their melodic singing, also dot the city's landscape, as well as colibris, which have reincorporated themselves into the city in a harmonious fashion, attracted by small gestures such as watering dishes placed outside the windows of large buildings.
Another important factor has involved changes in the recreational activities of children, who have abandoned traditional pastimes such as the use of slingshots (an instrument made of a fork-shaped piece of wood and two rubber bands used to fling rocks at wild birds and animals). Children are giving up these activities and substituting them with others, above all, environmental education.
Indeed, these examples constitute positive effects we can identify as a consequence of changes in environmental education in Brazil and the enactment of stiffer penalties for criminal acts committed against any object subject to environmental protections.

Targeting people's pocketbooks constitutes a strong incentive for agents to modify their behavior. The fines set out in Law 9605/98, ranging from fifty reais (R$50.00) to fifty million reais (R$50,000,000.00), represent a set of monetary penalties that has, in fact, proved effective in thwarting and combating the animal trade.
The realities of the legal system represent another element that contributes to the persistence of unlawful acts committed against Brazil's wild fauna. These involve, specifically, the application and execution of bail payments for individuals arrested during the commission of any of the crimes set forth in Law 9605/98. The bail amounts established are often too low. This stimulates repeat offenses and unquestionably contributes to continued trafficking.

The trafficking of wild animals has considerable financial weight on the international market. The activity has now firmly established itself in 3rd place on the ranking of international trafficking activities, behind only the drug and arms trade.
Legal protection of the fauna in our country still requires more encompassing legislation. We can no longer tolerate deceptive tactics that harm Brazil's environmental heritage, under penalty of violating the provisions of the Convention on Biodiversity, which sets out, in art. 3, the sovereign duty of countries that hold biodiversity to safeguard and preserve that biodiversity.
Law 5197/67, the Law on the Protection of Fauna, remains in force in Brazil, having been partially revoked by the enactment of the criminal provisions set out in specific legislation (Law 9605/98).
The remaining legal provisions related to fauna can still be found in the 1967 law and the Administrative Rules issued by IBAMA (the Environment Protection Agency).
Biopiracy is another element covered by the provisions on animal trafficking, although currently there is a legal framework that establishes the norms for safeguarding access to Brazil's genetic endowments (MP 2186/2001).

The environmental legislation in force, as comprehensive as it may be, is not yet stringent enough to halt the trafficking of wild animals. Brazil requires more effective criminal provisions capable of putting a stop to these unlawful activities. The rules, normative guidelines, and other administrative acts handed down by IBAMA are not yet sufficient to support the efforts of the institution's agents.
Article 47 of Law 9605/98 was vetoed by the President of the Republic. It dealt with biopiracy, particularly germoplasma banks. Therefore, the prohibition against criminal conduct continues to lack a legal framework capable of enforcing more vigorous penalties and legal restrictions.
Brazilian environmental doctrine is virtually unanimous in its assertion that biodiversity is an extremely significant aspect of socio-environmental relations. The preservation of biodiversity represents a guarantee of continued preservation for current and future generations, insofar as it is enshrined in art. 225 of the Federal Constitution, whose application all citizens are bound to ensure. After all, to paraphrase the central assertion of Lovelock's Gaia Theory, we are all an integral part of a living and thinking system capable of managing the relations nurtured within its core.

sagui, Brazilian monkey
Sagüi, a Brazilian monkey
Photo: IBAMA

Indeed, this is the true expression of our great Mother Earth, the pacha mama of the Incas, and the Gaia of the Greeks. As children and representatives of this great living system, we must, above all, make use of the provisions arising from environmental law to honor, through the application of legal requirements, this grand system on the basis of initiatives aimed at ensuring the system’s integrity. It is for this reason that there is an urgent need to implement the National Environmental Education Policy, as provided for in Federal Law 9795/99, in conjunction with government oversight and stricter criminal legislation. It serves no purpose to establish national policies if we fail to apply their provisions and principles.
In truth, we are trapped between two powerful forces: on the one side, the Wild Animal Trade backed by the financial strength of criminal factions in conjunction with institutions that prefer to act outside the bounds of legality; and, on the other, highly promising initiatives put forward by the federal government and President Luiz Inácio da Silva's administration, which, in carrying through with the arduous task of reorganizing the Brazilian State, face daunting obstacles in their efforts to solve the nation’s environmental problems.
The initiatives undertaken to date by Minister Marina Silva (Minister of Environment in Lula's government, and a long time activist) warrant our recognition, for it is not easy to confront "heavyweight" lobbyists and traffickers.

In spite of this challenge, the struggle has proved positive on the domestic front, with results that indicate impending victory. Animal seizures are increasing on a daily basis; the participation of NGOs such as RENCTAS has provided important assistance to the government in the difficult task of combating the trafficking of wild animals.
Fostering increased awareness within local communities regarding the importance of wild animals is yet another of the positive initiatives undertaken by the federal government. However, these efforts are still not sufficient to eradicate the scourge of trafficking from our system. Ensuring broad awareness, not only among the population, but the government as well, with respect to the negative aspects arising from the trafficking of animals is essential.
The environmental impact and damage stemming from illegal releases and diseases transmitted by animals are factors that contribute toward producing further harm to Brazil's environmental heritage and increasing environmental imbalances.

We can never ensure the full exercise of citizenship and a healthy quality of life if we are unable to live in harmony with our coinhabitants, the wild fauna. Art. 225 of the Federal Constitution specifically sets out the "Right to an Ecologically Balanced Environment" and goes on to state that the environment is a public asset and essential to a healthy quality of life. This assertion constitutes an explicit recognition of the determinations emanating from the Stockholm Conference (1972), which were subsequently included in the document entitled "Our Common Future" and permanently introduced in our legal system through Law 6938/81, ratified on the basis of the pertinent constitutional provision.
We cannot then remain silent in the face of the offenses committed against an endowment that belongs to all of us. Wild animals are not playthings, much less objects to be used in an unsustainable fashion. Rather, they are, to be sure, a valuable asset, which may be legally marketed by breeders, duly registered with IBAMA, who subject themselves to stringent environmental licensing procedures. We must not remain silent in the face of the trafficking of animals! A potentially valuable recourse when confronted with illegality is to report the activity, thus the importance of the green line represented by IBAMA and RENCTAS, and the efforts of the Federal, State, and Military Police.
Agreements and partnerships between the public and private sectors cannot be overlooked and must be promoted. Environmental education must be fostered so that children can distinguish between criminal and legal activities, thereby giving them the opportunity to envision sustainable coexistence with wild fauna free of criminal plundering.

Finally, one of the most significant aspects of our country that still requires improvement has to do with the way in which Brazilian citizens view the question of the trafficking of wild animals. A majority of people do not associate the trafficking of wild animals with an individual's ethical and moral principles. Ethical values must be introduced in the public consciousness, especially those ethical values intended to protect!
This is the only way we will be deserving, ultimately, of our great Mother Earth's gratitude. It is worth citing a brief quote by Professor Leonardo Boff, wherein he explains the care we should take in caring for our environmental heritage by implementing the ethos of protection: "(…) The lack of care with nature and our scarce resources, the lack of care with respect to technoscience’s power, which is responsible for the development of weapons of mass destruction and the capability to destroy the biosphere and the human species, has led us to an unprecedented impasse. Either we care for our planet or we shall perish (…)".

In short, today a Higher Intelligence is observing us.
The norms governing Environmental Law and the activities of those occupied with that law, whose object of concern is wild fauna, constitute an intergenerational link clearly recognized by the constitutional provisions today in force.
Some jurists tend to describe environmental law as a diffuse area of law by definition, given that the pertinent norms do not identify specific subjects and objects.
Environmental laws apply to each and every person. Indeed, we would maintain that environmental laws, and protection of the environment, are far more than diffuse; they transcend individuals and disciplines and, above all, are intergenerational (thus imposing on the government and society the duty to safeguard and preserve the environment for current and future generations).
Combating the trafficking of animals is an obligation shared by all for the benefit of all. Let us, in this way, honor our great Mother Earth!

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