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What it was like to document wildlife trafficking in the Amazon

February 8, 2013, 10:57 am | This story has an Influence Score of 1249

By riazhussain

Birds and animals are part our environment. Their survival is necessary for the conservation of the environment. Illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest illicit businesses in the world. It is a threat to the survival of several species worldwide. Countless species of birds and animals are on the verge of total extinction because of this illicit business run by organized and powerful networks of traffickers. Illegal wildlife trade is rampant in South America. The animals, their parts, souvenirs, or products from the animals are sold in the local market, as well as in North America, Europe and Asia. In 2003, Louie Favorite went to the Amazon to cover a news story on wildlife trafficking. He stayed there for three weeks. 


Louie Favorite is now a 62-year-old former newspaper photographer. He was born in Pensacola, Florida, USA. He worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 33 years before leaving 3 years ago to freelance.These days , he lives and bases his freelance work in Atlanta where he has lived for all those years at the newspaper.

Talking about the nature of his assignment, he said, ‘the story we were working on was extremely interesting. So many animals are illegally captured and exported from Brazil. This was our reason for being there, to document the illegal animal trade from starting point to end point.’ Covering the story from ‘starting point to end point’ means covering it from indigenous poachers to end buyers of the birds and animals. Therefore, he not only had to go to remote places and rainforests in the Amazonia at Manaus but also Sao Paulo and some locations in the United States.  

Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil. It is a center of commerce , trade, culture, arts and entertainment. It is located in Southeastern Brazil.

During his visit to the Amazonia, Louie travelled to the Amazon River. This watercourse is the second largest river in the world. It is so vast that it is called the River Sea. Its vastness can also be imagined from the fact that its basin covers about 30% of the South American continent. It starts in Peru and flows in Brazil. It has tributaries flowing from Bolivia,Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela -- more than 1100 of them which come from Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Caquetá River, Huallaga, Içá River, Javary, Jurua, Nanay, Negro, Pastaza, Tambo, Tigre, Tocantins, Trombetas, Ucayali, Xingu, Yapura are some of its tributaries. The Amazon and its network of rivers have thick forests that become flooded in rainy seasons. These flooded forests are known as ‘várzea’. With these tributaries, the river makes a broad estuary when it enters the Atlantic Ocean.

Louie flew towards the north of Brazil to Manaus because the city is regarded as a gateway to the Amazon. The city is the capital of the state of Amazonas in Brazil. The city is located at the confluence of two rivers. It is a city in the jungle. They had boat trips to the jungle. They spent a lot of time on the waterway. He saw many rare birds in the jungle. Louie also saw several species of flora and fauna. There were a lot of insects. He also saw a place near Manaus where the waters of two rivers meet. The Rio Negro is the northern branch of the Amazon. The colour of its water is black or like the colour of strong tea. On the other hand the colour of the waters of the Rio Solemos is white. These two rivers flow for miles together but the waters of the two rivers maintain respective their colors. 

Talking about his feelings when he saw the Amazon River, Louie Favorite said , ‘I had only seen the Mississippi River before this trip, so as you might guess, it was much bigger. Less development than we have in the United States. More trees and rain forest’. 

I asked him about the people who live along the banks of the river and how he communicated with them . He says that people who live there speak a little English. ‘There was only a slight language barrier. I learned very little Portuguese, but luckily most of the people we ran into spoke at least a little English. Many places we visited weren’t very different than parts of the United States’.

He said, ‘For the most part, people there were friendly and welcoming. I’ve found that people are more alike than different no matter what part of the world."

The only exceptions were the people involved in the illegal trafficking. Naturally, they didn’t welcome us with open arms.’ When Louie and his team met the wildlife traffickers, he was appalled by the scale of the traffickers' business. He says, 'We were offered everything from sloths to brightly colored birds to even an alligator. We declined to buy any.Once, while we were on a boat trip, one of the locals held an animal in his right hand and extended his left hand to us . He was ready to sell the animal to us. 

In the Amazon there are colourful birds, reptiles and predators (such as eagles and jaguars). The traffickers target rare birds like yellow-faced parrots , blue-throated and blue hyacinth macaws.

They also trade reptiles like crocodiles, alligators, anacondas and snakes. They are used for food, educational studies and as pets. In addition, Their skins are used for making bags, shoes and belts. The indigenous people trap and hunt these endangered species of birds and animals for foreign dealers. They are transported through hidden and uncomfortable means that threaten the health of these animals and birds. A large number of wildlife specimens are packed together in boxes which may cause injuries to the animals and birds. They are exported to other countries at far-flung borders. At times these birds and animals (alive or dead) are used as carriers for the trafficking of drugs, and their offsprings or their eggs, as the case may be, are being trafficked as well.

Louie says that every year millions of animals and birds are removed from their natural habitat. The traffickers want money and lots of it. The problem is that poachers and traffickers are not educated about the problems we may collectively inherit should the harmonious balance be damaged by the overconsumption of the natural resources of the earth. Wildlife trafficking is a threat to nature, natural resources, ecological harmony and to the health of our environment. It is threat to the future of the world, the abode of humans, birds and animals. We should make sure that we leave a better world for posterity. 


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