The illegal trade of birds, reptiles, and some mammals is a lucrative corner of the black market among El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. It has been about three years since consuming turtle eggs became officially against the law in El Salvador, and still it’s not too hard to find place that sell these so-called delicacies. One recent sting operation at the Honduran-Salvadoran border confiscated 10,500 turtle eggs that originated in Nicaragua; the eggs were bound for Guatemala to be eaten in restaurants. Stings like this are rare, however, because so little resources are provided to stop this kind of trafficking of animals. I suppose in a country with such a high murder rate, and over 30 percent of the population living below the poverty line, one could make arguments that El Salvador “has bigger fish to fry.” I would argue that those just may be the best reasons in favor of protecting biodiversity and enforcing these laws.
Apart from turtle eggs, animal-traffickers are also selling various types of birds and lizards on the black market. By and large, however, this black market happens in the full light of day; I’ve gone on many a drive around the country and have had countless opportunities to buy large iguanas from vendors hawking them along the roadsides. One particular species of iguana, known as a garrobo, is often brought in from Nicaragua, where traffickers buy them in “bulk” for less than three dollars apiece, and sell them to passersby for $15-25; a huge profit for them. And clearly, if they’re holding these lizards up for all the world to see as they drive by in their cars, they are clearly not worried about getting busted for animal trafficking, or selling illegal species. People in Nicaragua dedicate their lives to hunting these species in large quantities, and selling high volume to folks across the border. For the hunters, they do the hard work, but avoid potential confrontations by just selling to one or a few people. It’s these people who take on the risk of selling the “product” to consumers.
However, these animals are typically not ending up as pets for the random passerby; the majority are being sold to restaurants who cook and sell exotic food. Little to no resources are given for the enforcement of the laws against animal trafficking and selling of prohibited (endangered) species, so there is little incentive for restaurants to stop; if anything, they can charge a premium price for its perceived higher value. And indeed, it is these restaurants, who are buying in large quantities and selling for a huge premium, that are the real problem, not the vendors along the sides of the roads. The restaurants, by selling this food, are implying they support the continued devouring of endangered species, which promotes the idea that no one cares about these species. And flaunting the violation of known laws also reinforces the idea that in this country, anyone can do pretty much whatever they want and get away with it. Extortion and murder may be a problem in this country, but its the natural resources that can make everyone wealthy, and the more its exploited, the more impoverished we all become.