Colom­bia park fights an­i­mal traf­fick­ing with ed­u­ca­tion

Tulsa World - - Our Lives - By Manuel Rueda

BO­GOTA, Colom­bia — On the out­skirts of Colom­bia's cap­i­tal, red macaws share a na­ture re­serve with ocelots and black-headed par­rots. A white-crested harpy ea­gle whis­tles at school­child­ren who walk on a well-pre­served trail.

The an­i­mals come from dif­fer­ent re­gions of this eco­log­i­cally di­verse South Amer­i­can coun­try. But most of them share one thing in com­mon: They were res­cued from an­i­mal traf­fick­ers.

As lead­ers in the fight against wildlife traf­fick­ing gather in Lon­don this week at the Il­le­gal Wildlife Trade Con­fer­ence, con­ser­va­tion­ists around the world are work­ing to pro­vide shel­ters to the thou­sands of an­i­mals that have been res­cued from smug­glers.

The Bio Par­que La Reserva in the Colom­bian city of Cota is home to 50 species rang­ing from tur­tles to golden poi­son frogs, which are sought by col­lec­tors.

Ivan Lozano, the re­serve's di­rec­tor, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion helps for­merly traf­ficked an­i­mals re­cover from their in­juries and rein­tro­duces some of them into the wild. It uses an­i­mals that can no longer live in their orig­i­nal habi­tats to teach vis­i­tors about dif­fer­ent species and their roles in the ecosys­tem.

“Our idea here is to change the be­hav­ior of younger gen­er­a­tions to­ward these an­i­mals,” Lozano said.

To achieve this goal, the re­serve opens its doors to hun­dreds of tourists and school­child­ren each week for a fee of $6. Only guided vis­its led by the park's ex­perts are al­lowed.

More than 23,000 an­i­mals were con­fis­cated in Colom­bia from traf­fick­ers last year, and smug­gling is a se­ri­ous threat to some species.

Lozano be­lieves that ed­u­ca­tion is one of the keys to re­duc­ing an­i­mal traf­fick­ing and that is why he has opened his re­serve to vis­i­tors.

“We want peo­ple to re­al­ize that they too have a role in re­duc­ing the loss of our bio­di­ver­sity” he said. “And we want to make sci­en­tific dis­course more ac­ces­si­ble.”

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