Wildlife trafficking is devastating many species across the globe, while undermining local livelihoods, weakening the rule of law, exacerbating corruption and organized crime, and emerging as a growing threat to national security. Experts have voiced concerns that illegal wildlife trade in Central America could replicate the devastating pattern seen in Africa and Asia, but a shortage of available data has limited the speed of response.

A new study from Imperial College London, carried out with experts from several institutions, including the Wildlife Conservation Society/Defenders of Wildlife/ARCAS/etc., aims to help address this situation by using a predictive method to identify emerging trends in the region. Below is a summary of these findings:

·       Wildlife targeted by traffickers include those not previously trafficked (such as sea cucumbers and glass eels) and an increasing volume of those already subject to trafficking (for example parrots and rosewood).

·       Increasing transnational connectivity regionally and internationally, including road infrastructure, human population growth, colonization of previously forested areas, and connection to global wildlife markets. 

·       A digital transformation is giving wildlife traffickers a larger market reach, whilst also giving law enforcement agencies better access to enforcement and surveillance technology, as well as platforms to communicate with the general public.

·       Threats in Central America seem to parallel those seen globally and wildlife may face the same risks already observed with devastating consequences in other regions.

The results of the study will be useful for regional governments and those working to undermine the illegal trade in prioritising threats of immediate and potential concern. They also highlight targets for further monitoring of specific wildlife, key communities, and new infrastructure developments.

The study, which has been published in Oryx - The International Journal of Conservation, uses a method of prediction used in business, medicine and more recently in conservation, to identify patterns and forecast threats. Sarah Gluszek, lead author and Wildlife Trade Technical Specialist at Fauna & Flora International, said “Often Asia and Africa are the central focus of illegal wildlife trade responses, but we show that Central American wildlife is not immune to these global threats. We’ve seen an increase in wildlife and timber taken to be used as substitutes for increasingly hard to source African and Asian species. It’s important to remember that while we’re looking for solutions to the illegal wildlife trade, we make sure that our efforts don’t overlook this region.”

Said co-author, Jeremy Radachowsky, WCS Regional Director for Mesoamerica and the Western Caribbean: “Mesoamerica is already one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, environmental degradation, and socio-economic shocks. Especially during a zoonotic pandemic such as COVID 19, it is critical to understand and stop illegal wildlife trade in Mesoamerica both to protect wildlife and human health.”