A Talk on the Wild Side.
“They kill the moms, so they can sell their young.” WCS image
Peru is a country on the rise. In addition to a growing economy and increased influence in South America, in recent years Peru has become better known as a culinary powerhouse and a tourist destination. Featuring a variety of fascinating cities, cultures, delicious foods and such well-known archaeological sites as Machu Picchu, Peru has much to recommend itself. It is also a biodiversity hotspot, with coastal, mountain and Amazon Rainforest ecosystems that are home to a vast diversity and number of plant and animal species. But many are under threat.
While the plight of elephants and rhinos has been the focus of many anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns and awareness-raising efforts, many species in the Western Hemisphere are also imperiled by illegal trade. Some of them are songbirds and parrots, such as the scarlet macaw. Others include ocean animals such as sea cucumbers and seahorses. In Peru, the endemic and critically endangered yellow-tailed wooly monkey is among the numerous species that could soon be lost because of the country’s rampant wildlife trade.
Peru’s endemic and critically endangered yellow-tailed wooly monkey. Photo by Walter Wust/WCS
The good news is that the Service has been working with partners in Peru to develop a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking and protect its species. In recent years the Service has supported the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Peru as a leader of these efforts.
WCS began its work by collecting more data about wildlife trafficking in Peru. The goal was to know how many species were traded, identify markets, understand trade routes and learn about public perceptions toward the trade.
Working with more than 10 years of government data and new research, WCS identified at least 335 species of animals that are being traded. This number includes 188 bird, 90 mammal, 41 reptile and 10 invertebrate species. The group determined that Peru had at least 41 major wildlife markets in 10 cities. Lima, Peru’s capital city, alone was documented to have 18 markets.
But WCS also wanted to talk to the Peruvian people and learn more about how they viewed their own involvement in the trade, as well as how they understood its impact, so it conducted two surveys.
While WCS was able to speak with only 65 people in six communities who had some involvement in the supply-side of the trade, a couple of key findings stood out in the first survey: 73 percent of the respondents said they would stop taking animals from the wild if they had access to other, more profitable economic activities, and 60 percent said they were not familiar with laws that restricted the take of wildlife.
For the second survey, 554 people in four major Peruvian cities were surveyed. Among the findings: 70 percent of respondents had kept wildlife as pets, 50 percent of respondents were not aware of laws relating to wildlife, and 85 percent disagreed with the sale of wild animals in markets.
While there are a lot of potential take-aways from this limited data, it is overwhelmingly clear that most Peruvians love wildlife, but also lack knowledge about the extent of the wildlife trade problem and its threat to Peru’s species. There is also a general lack of awareness about the laws in place to protect animals.
“Pets are the principal cause of wildlife trafficking in Peru.”
Working with partners at Peru’s National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR), WCS understood that as part of the national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking, it was critical to have a public engagement campaign to help Peruvians become better informed of the problem, and their role in protecting Peru’s wildlife.
To get some initial data of what might work, they designed a pilot campaign that took place on Facebook over five weeks in November and December of last year.
Graphics were designed with simple messages aimed to inform and provoke interest among Peruvians on the topic of illegal wildlife trade. Fourteen graphics in total were shared by WCS and SERFOR, showcasing charismatic Peruvian species with key facts. Some examples include a graphic with text that said, “45 thousand live animals were confiscated between 2000-2012” with an image of Peru’s well- known but threatened Humboldt penguin; an image of a bird with the text, “2000 birds can be sold illegally in Peru…in just one day”; and an image of a baby monkey with text that said “They kill the moms, so they can sell their young.”
When combined, 247,634 people saw at least one of the Facebook posts looking at WCS’s data alone (SERFOR’s data are not included in this total). Peru has a population estimated at 31 million, so it’s hoped that an expanded campaign could make a deeper and important impact.
“In general I was surprised by people’s interest and response,” says Diego Coll, communications coordinator for WCS in Peru.
“45 thousand live animals were confiscated between 2000-2012.” WCS image
“Now it’s more evident to us the things that we have to do. The topic of trafficking has a lot of potential to be tackled from a communications perspective, in part because it’s easy to generate empathy with animals and also because in a campaign related to the trafficking of animals, we can say without fear of being wrong that the solution to the problem is people—and that we all can be part of the solution,” he says.
“Going from there it’s much easier to generate more appreciation and engagement. It’s clear if we attack and diminish the demand for wild pets, we will be closer to ending the problem. If there’s no demand, there’s no supply.”
Statistically speaking, the message about killing moms of animals to get their young had the highest impact and alone reached 43,000 people and was shared more than 340 times.
“It was an excellent combination between a strong message—something concrete, emotional—and a high-impact image,” Coll says. “The thing that we are always trying to do is make sure is that the messages have substance, but also are based in real data. Finding the balance between the emotional and the data is definitely a challenge.”
In December, WCS celebrated an important milestone: After years of work, 24 government and nongovernmental institutions endorsed Peru’s new national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking. They signed an “act of commitment” to help implement it over the next five years. The plan incorporated WCS’ research and coalition building to initiate a comprehensive strategy that would streamline collaboration, law enforcement, data collection and public engagement. Thanks to WCS, Peruvian law enforcement agencies for the first time have knowledge of major land and water trafficking routes, markets, and a centralized database to store information.
“It’s illegal to sell wild animals in markets.” WCS image
Through a grant from the Service, WCS is working to strengthen the capacities of Peruvian government agencies to implement multi-agency cooperative law enforcement protocols and use consistent procedures for controlling wildlife trafficking in Peru and in the Ecuadorian border area. A related goal is to generate a model for reducing wildlife trafficking on a more regional scale. These factors, including the recently added presence of a Service Law Enforcement attaché based in Peru, have led to results. In January, for the first time in Peru, following an investigation and response from SERFOR, two men who were caught selling an ocelot in Lima were immediately charged and sentenced for the crime.
It’s a good start to some long work ahead for WCS, SERFOR, the Service and many other partners. Combating the illegal wildlife trade in Peru will help protect the country’s beloved and treasured species. It appears that many Peruvians are ready to help be a part of the solution, but first they must be informed of the realities of the challenge to do so.
LEVI NOVEY, International Affairs