In a recently published paper, Asociacion Armonia (BirdLife in Bolivia) monitored the wild birds which passed through a pet market in Santa Cruz between August 2004 to July 2005, and recorded nearly 7,300 individuals of 31 parrot species, of which four were threatened species .
There are four other pet markets in Santa Cruz, all of which may be handling similar numbers of parrots, and Armonia expects that the situation is comparable in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba.
“We believe our study describes only a small proportion of the Bolivian parrot trade, underscoring the potential extent of the illegal pet trade and the need for better Bolivian law enforcement”, said Armonia’s Executive Director, Bennett Hennessey
In fact, Bolivian Environmental Law states that all persons involved in trade, capture and transportation without authorization of wild animals will suffer a two-year prison sentence together with a fine equivalent to 100% of the value of the animal. Bolivia has ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means Bolivia has agreed to control international trade in species listed on CITES Appendix II, such as Blue-fronted Parrot Amazona aestiva, and not export those on Appendix I, such as the Bolivian endemic Red-fronted Macaw Ara rubrogenys (Endangered).
But the illegal pet trade continues in Santa Cruz, and although many traffickers have been arrested and charged, they have subsequently been released. “National, departmental and municipal governments do nothing to halt the trade in the city centres, and local police refuse to be involved, claiming animal traffic is not a priority”, Hennessey continued. “This has created a situation where there is no law enforcement regarding trade in CITES-restricted species and threatened species.”
“Bolivia appears to serve as a bridge for the wildlife trade between Brazil and Peru" —Mauricio Herrera, Coordinator of the Armonia/Loro Parque Fundacion Blue-throated Macaw conservation programme
By monitoring the parrots passing though the market, Armonia sought to gather data on the level of trade, to determine primary trafficking routes, and begin to understand some of the social aspects associated with trading activities.
The most frequently sold species were the Blue-fronted Parrot Amazona aestiva (1,468 individuals), Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus (1,342) and Blue-winged Parrotlet Forpus xanthopterygius (1,243).
“It was observed that the majority of the inexpensive species were sold for the internal market, but threatened and more valuable birds were frequently traded to middlemen with Peruvian trade connections”, said Mauricio Herrera, coordinator of the Armonia/Loro Parque Fundacion Blue-throated Macaw conservation programme. “Bolivia appears to serve as a bridge for the wildlife trade between Brazil and Peru, insofar as threatened species such as the Critically Endangered Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari (two chicks arrived in the market on 18 November 2004) and Endangered Hyacinth Macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus (four chicks on 10 December 2004) are transported from Brazil to Peru via Bolivian roads.”
Armonia’s Red-fronted Macaw conservation programme is working to counter the trade in this species through education programmes, and by involving local people and rural communities in conservation solutions which provide more sustainable economic incentives, such as the creation of a tourist Ecolodge in an important breeding area for the macaw. This is modeled on the earlier programme for the conservation of the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw Ara glaucogularis, developed by Armonıa and Loro Parque Fundacion. This species was formerly heavily traded, and its absence from the market during the monitoring period may point to the effectiveness of the programme.
“We hope that by quantifying the level of illegal trade and publishing this information, international and Bolivian national regulation agencies will become aware of the effects of the illegal pet market, and begin to enforce restriction laws already in place”, Mauricio Herrera concludes.
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Bird Conservation International is the official journal of BirdLife International. It provides stimulating, up-to-date coverage of bird conservation topics important in today's world. For more information: BirdLife: Bird Conservation International
 Quantifying the illegal parrot trade in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, with emphasis on threatened species MAURICIO HERRERA HURTADO and BENNETT HENNESSEY Bird Conservation International (2007) 17:295-300