Wildlife trafficking in Mexico: how many wild parrots are illegally captured each year?

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Jun 142011
 

In this post we return to The thorny issues of plant and animal trafficking and biopiracy in Mexico. We highlight several recent news items related to wildlife trafficking, as well as an important survey of the illegal parrot trade in Mexico.

Mexican police launched dozens of raids on stores and markets in March 2010, looking for illegally-traded plants and animals. They collected more than 4500 live specimens, representing more than 110 different species, ranging from cacti and orchids to tropical fish, parrots, reptiles and puma cubs. The mortality rate while transporting illegally-traded animals is more than 90%, according to wildlife experts.

The following month, Mexican federal police rescued 10 tigers and jaguars held captive in Cancún as a tourist attraction, while in June 2010, police at Mexico City’s international airport arrested a Mexican traveler who arrived from Peru with 18 tiny endangered monkeys strapped around his waist. Anyone convicted in Mexico of the illegal trafficking of animals can be sentenced to up to nine years in prison.

The scale of Mexico’s animal-trafficking problem is staggering. For example, according to the Defenders of Wildlife Mexico Program, “It is estimated that between 65,000 to 78,500 parrots are caught illegally every year.” (“The Illegal Parrot Trade in Mexico: A Comprehensive Assessment“)

The states with the worst records for numbers of parrots taken in the wild are Oaxaca and Chiapas (15,000 parrots a year each), Nayarit (12,500), Campeche (10,000) and Guerrero (5,000). Most of these parrots are thought to stay in Mexico, though up to 9,000 a year taken across the border into the USA.

Thick-billed Parrot in captivity

Thick-billed Parrot in captivity

Most of the trafficking in wildlife is carried out by organized international crime networks. Mexico is a major hub for the international trade in wildlife, both because of its rich biodiversity, and because of its proximity to the USA, one of the world’s largest markets for exotic plants and animals. The global trade in illegal wildlife is thought by Interpol to be worth $20 billion a year.

Related posts:

Chapter 5 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico focuses on ecosystems and biodiversity.  Chapter 30 analyzes environmental issues and trends including the impact of Old World species imported by the Spaniards, current environmental threats, and efforts to protect the environment.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!



Why Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve is well worth a visit

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Jun 132011
 

In a recent post, we looked at an Enchanted Lake in southern Mexico, in the Sierra de las Tuxtlas, near Catemaco in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. In this post we take a look at the surrounding Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve.

Tuxtlas biosphere reserve

Scenically, the entire Tuxtlas region is one of the most fabulously beautiful in all of Mexico. High temperatures combined with lots of rainfall result in luxuriant vegetation and boundless wildlife. Average monthly temperatures range from a pleasant 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) in January to a high of 28 degrees C (82 degrees F) in May, just before the rainy season kicks in. During the rainy season, from June to October, some 2000 mm (79 inches) of rain falls, often in late afternoon tropical deluges.

The jungle masking the lower slopes of the San Martín volcano gradually merges into tropical cloud forest at higher altitudes. Competing with the Silk Cotton (Kapok) and Ficus trees for light and sustenance are ground-hugging ferns. Overhead, the tangle of tree branches provides support for thousands of non-parasitic bromeliads (“air” plants) and orchids. More than 1300 species of flowering plants have been identified in this classic area for Neotropical ecology.

Bird-watchers are likely to spot the spectacular Keel-billed Toucan, or hear a Tody Motmot. Smaller birds include several species of hummingbird; look for the endemic Long-tailed Sabrewing. About half of all the bird species recorded in Mexico have been seen here, but birds are not the only wild animals inhabiting the jungle. Ocelots and tapirs are regularly seen and you may be lucky enough to see spider monkeys playing overhead in the canopy.

Clearance of the land for grazing and cultivation of the slopes to grow tobacco, bananas and sugar cane have reduced the original jungle to a relatively small number of isolated fragments. Fortuitously, this provides more varied habitats than the original vegetation, helping to enrich the area’s wildlife, further enhancing the region’s reputation as an ornithological and botanical paradise.

Fortunately an extensive area of this region was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1998, ensuring that conservation programs now go hand-in-hand with human activities. The total area forming the Reserva de la Biósfera “Los Tuxtlas” is 155,122 hectares (380,000 acres).

Chapter 5 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico focuses on Mexico’s ecosystems and biodiversity.  Chapter 30 analyzes environmental issues and trends including current environmental threats and efforts to protect the environment.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

The geography of Thanksgiving: why a Mexican bird came to be called turkey

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Nov 222010
 

Geographers who are Hungary like to eat Turkey, provided it does not have too much Greece.

The first in this Thanksgiving series of posts looked at how the first Thanksgiving was actually held in Mexico, and not the USA as more commonly claimed.

Many of the essential ingredients of the modern Thanksgiving feast also originated in Mexico. In this post, we take a look at the origins of the Thanksgiving (and Christmas) turkey.

How did the turkey eaten at Thanksgiving and Christmas acquire the same name as a European country? Or was it the other way around?

Modern day turkeys (the edible kind) are the direct descendants of the wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) still found in many parts of Mexico.

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo Painting by John James Audubon, 1830

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo. Painting by John James Audubon, 1830

So, how is it possible that a Mexican bird acquired the name turkey? The most likely explanation derives from the fact that the merchants who traded in the Middle Ages between the Middle East and England were based in the Turkish Empire and hence known as “Turkey merchants”. Turkey merchants are also believed to have introduced the guinea fowl, a native of Madagascar, to European dinner tables.

Later, the larger New World bird, the present-day turkey, was brought back to Spain by the conquistadors. The rearing of New World birds gradually spread to other parts of Europe and North Africa. The Turkey merchants capitalized on the new opportunity, and began to supply the new birds instead of the guinea fowls to the English market, and the rest is history.

The first use in English of the word “turkey” to describe the bird dates back to 1555. By 1575 , turkey was already becoming the preferred main course for Christmas dinner. Curiously, the Turkish name for the turkey is hindi, which is probably derived from “chicken of India”, perhaps based on the then-common misconception that Columbus had reached the Indies.

Mexico’s wild turkeys had been domesticated by pre-Columbian Indian groups long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Several archaeological sites provide tantalizing clues as to precisely how turkeys were reared. One such site is Casas Grandes in the northern state of Chihuahua, an area where modern, large-scale turkey-rearing is still an important contributor to the local economy.

Previous posts in the Thanksgiving mini-series:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is your handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography. If you have enjoyed this post, please consider gifting a copy of Geo-Mexico to someone this holiday season.

The diversity of species (plants and animals) in Mexico

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Oct 152010
 

A previous post noted that Mexico’s very wide range of ecosystems make it one of the six most biodiverse countries on earth. We also looked at the states in Mexico with the greatest biodiversity.

Given its deserts, it is not surprising that Mexico ranks first in the world in cactus species and second in reptile species, behind only Australia. Mexico’s tallest cactus is the Pachycereus pringlei (cardón), a relative of the saguaro. It can grow to a height over 19 meters (60 feet) and 1 meter in diameter (39 inches). The largest reptile is the crocodile which can grow to 5 meters (16 feet) in length and weigh over 400 kilograms (880 pounds).  In recent years, several Mexicans have been killed by crocodile attacks.

Marine biodiversityLargely as a result of Mexico’s diverse tropical and subtropical forests, Mexico ranks fourth in the world with 30,000 different types of flowering plants, compared to only 18,000 in the USA and 12,000 in all of Europe. It also ranks fourth in number of amphibian species, which thrive in Mexico’s tropical rainforests. Mexico is also among the top ten in fern and butterfly species.

The temperate forests also harbor significant biodiversity.  Mexico has more species of pine trees and oak trees than any other country.  However, with deforestation, some of these species may be endangered.

Most people are very surprised to learn that Mexico is among the top three in mammal species, along with Indonesia and Brazil. Some of Mexico’s mammals are majestic like the jaguar, some are rather large like the tapir, but many are small and less impressive like bats, shrews, and rodents. Extinction of endemic Mexican mammals is a serious concern. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed 11 endemic Mexican mammals as “critically endangered”; 27 as “endangered”, and 14 as “vulnerable”.

Chapter 5 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico focuses on Mexico’s ecosystems and biodiversity.  Chapter 30 analyzes environmental issues and trends including current environmental threats and efforts to protect the environment.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

Mexico’s mega-biodiversity

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Oct 122010
 

People from elsewhere generally think of Mexico as an arid country with lots of cacti. The general impression is that Mexico has relatively little biodiversity in comparison with equator-hugging tropical countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

These impressions could not be farther from the truth.  While northern Mexico is indeed arid, many areas in southern Mexico receive over 2,000 mm (80 inches) of annual precipitation, almost entirely in the form of rainfall. The rainiest place in Mexico— Tenango, Oaxaca—receives 5,000 mm (16.4 feet) of rain annually.

Mexico's postage stamps regularly celebrate biodiveristy

Mexico's postage stamps regularly celebrate biodiveristy. Click to enlarge

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Mexico is a world leader in terms of climate and ecosystem diversity.  It is one of the only countries on earth with arid deserts, dry scrublands, temperate forests, high altitude alpine areas, subtropical forests, tropical rainforests and extensive coral reefs. The multitude of ecosystems in Mexico supports a very wide range of biodiversity.

  • Mexico’s vegetation zones. The link is to a pdf map (in color) of vegetation zones. The map (all rights reserved) is a color version of Figure 5.1 in Geo-Mexico.

Mexico’s Environmental Ministry (SEMARNAT) indicates that there are over 200,000 different species in Mexico.  This is about 10% – 12% of all the species on the planet. About half of all Mexico’s species are endemic; they exist only in Mexico. An unknown number of endemic species were forced to extinction by the intended and unintended importation of Old World species by the Spaniards.

The U.N. Environment Programme has identified 17 “megadiverse” countries.  The list includes Mexico, the USA, Australia, five South American countries, three African countries, and six Asian counties.  Actually, Mexico is among the upper third of this group along with Brazil, Colombia, China, Indonesia and DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The other countries on the list are: the USA, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru,  South Africa, Malagasy Republic, India, Malaysia, The Philippines,  Papua New Guinea, and Australia.

Chapter 4 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses Mexico’s diverse climates.  Chapter 5 focuses on ecosystems and biodiversity.  Chapter 30 analyzes environmental issues and trends including the impact of Old World species imported by the Spaniards, current environmental threats, and efforts to protect the environment.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve in Veracruz, Mexico

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Apr 172010
 

Scenically, the entire Tuxtlas region, in the south-eastern section of the  state of Veracruz, is one of the most fabulously beautiful in all of Mexico. High temperatures combined with lots of rainfall result in luxuriant vegetation and boundless wildlife. Average monthly temperatures range from a pleasant 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) in January to a high of 28 degrees C (82 degrees F) in May, just before the rainy season kicks in. During the rainy season, from June to October, some 2000 mm (79 inches) of rain falls, often in late afternoon tropical deluges.

The jungle masking the lower slopes of the San Martín volcano gradually merges into tropical cloud forest at higher altitudes. Competing with the Silk Cotton (Kapok) and Ficus trees for light and sustenance are ground-hugging ferns. Overhead, the tangle of tree branches provides support for thousands of non-parasitic bromeliads (“air” plants) and orchids. More than 1300 species of flowering plants have been identified in this classic area for Neotropical ecology.

Bird-watchers are likely to spot the spectacular Keel-billed Toucan, or hear a Tody Motmot. Smaller birds include several species of hummingbird; look for the endemic Long-tailed Sabrewing. About half of all the bird species recorded in Mexico have been seen here, but birds are not the only wild animals inhabiting the jungle. Ocelots and tapirs are regularly seen and you may be lucky enough to see spider monkeys playing overhead in the canopy.

Clearance of the land for grazing and cultivation of the slopes to grow tobacco, bananas and sugar cane have reduced the original jungle to a relatively small number of isolated fragments. Fortuitously, this provides more varied habitats than the original vegetation, helping to enrich the area’s wildlife, further enhancing the region’s reputation as an ornithological and botanical paradise.

Fortunately an extensive area of this region was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1998, ensuring that conservation programs now go hand-in-hand with human activities. The total area forming the Reserva de la Biósfera “Los Tuxtlas” is 155,122 hectares (380,000 acres).

Click here for original article on MexConnect

Mexico’s varied climate zones are discussed in chapter 4 of  Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, while chapter 5 is devoted to Mexico’s ecosystems and biodiversity, including the nation’s many biosphere reserves.