Rescued From the Illegal Trade.. Now What?

I often discuss the illegal trade in wildlife with my students, both from the terrestrial ecosystems like the rainforest and marine areas such as seagrass beds and reefs. Worldwide the trade in live wildlife and endangered species – not just in their products – threatens to unbalance habitats through the loss of seed dispersers, predators, prey, and natural control for algae to prevent phase shifts.  Even for those species that are relatively numerous, when individuals are removed for the trade the animals are lost as potential mating partners and their genes go with them.

The usual pipeline for the trade runs from capture, to transportation, to holding and sales, to the end consumer who then displays the animal at home or in some other way.   Certainly many animals are lost along the route due to stress and disease, and the outlook (in terms of welfare) for each individual varies widely dependent upon the skills, knowledge, and resources of the person at the end of the chain.  And even for those animals kept in the best of conditions, there are still lingering ethical concerns.

But this pipeline isn’t unidirectional. If that seems strange, perhaps it should, as it certainly was to me when I first ran across the TED talk of Juliana Machado Ferreira.  Her work focuses on animals pulled from Brazilian forest that are intercepted along the trade route by enforcement officers.  She poses a brilliant question: once we’ve rescued them from the trade, what do we do with them?