Big news broke in mid-March about the largest wildlife trafficking bust in Brazil ever. Jorge Pontes, head of Interpol in Brazil, contacted me about the bust of a huge macaw smuggling ring. On Friday, March 13, 2009, Brazilian Federal Police and Interpol arrested 102 people in 9 states. Interpol issued red notices (wanted) for 6 people in Europe.

The sting was unique in that they caught the whole trafficking stream — poachers, transporters, market sellers in Brazil, and exporters. The ones who got away were the buyers, who drive demand.

The gang moved $20 million and 500,000 animals per year. It involved mostly macaws and macaw eggs destined for the pet bird trade in Europe, but many other animals were included, including 2 jaguar cubs. One blue macaw egg sold for 4,000 Euros (more than $4,000).

Two interesting points: The operation (called Operation Oxossi) began when an officer was investigating a human trafficking ring — and discovered that this same group used its routes to also traffick in illegal wildlife.

Second, 70% of those arrested had been arrested for wildlife trafficking previously — showing that penalties are way too low. FYI: There’s been a proposal in the Brazilian Congress to increase the penalties to the same as drug and weapons trafficking — but it’s doubtful anything will happen. We’ll keep watching.

While this case is not directly related to the one described in my book, it does illustrate the continued prevalence of wildlife trafficking and how it’s linked to other crimes.

For more information, see: http://www.interpol.int/Public/ICPO/PressReleases/PR2009/PR200919.asp