Famous wildlife market, the largest in the Peruvian Amazon, returns after pandemic hiatus
The Belén market, a critical trading hub in the Amazon, was a clear vector of transmission: out of 100 Belén sellers tested in May 2020, 99 were positive for COVID-19, said Martín Vizcarra, then president of Peru.
That month, the city government closed Belén Market, bulldozing nearly 2,500 stalls. The closure coincided with a map, five years in the works, to modernize the market, with financial support from the United Nations Development Program. The overhaul aimed to promote economic development and better living conditions in a long marginalized part of the country. An immediate effect envisioned by the Peruvian Ministry of Production and UN donors: this would reduce the spread of COVID-19.
This summer, after months of construction, the market has reopened. Corn an eight week investigation in August and September by World Animal Protection, an international nonprofit animal welfare organization, has revealed that the illegal sale of wild animals and their parts has picked up in much of the market.
Investigators found sliced caimans lying in busy aisles, live parrots in cardboard boxes and wild deer meat for sale alongside fruit and vegetables. “It’s pretty shocking to see, especially after COVID-19,” says biologist Neil D’Cruze, head of research and policy at World Animal Protection. “Despite the apparent best intentions of local authorities, the illegal wildlife trade is really starting to come back to life in Belén market, largely in public view,” he said.
“It is a real concern that such a large – and some would say notorious – wildlife market like Belén who was already on the radar of UN agencies in terms of aid and development support has been allowed to reopen. without action being taken to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, ”says D’Cruze. It was a “missed opportunity”.
Officials from the United Nations Development Program and Peru’s Ministry of Production, which funded and oversaw the redevelopment, did not respond to requests for comment.
Controlling the wildlife trade in Belén
Iquitos is about 230 miles upstream of the Amazon River from Très Fronteras, the region where Brazil, Colombia and Peru meet. and where the illegal wildlife trade thrives virtually unchecked.
Hunting wild animals for their livelihood, common in indigenous Amazonian communities, is legal in Peru, but selling these animals in markets is not. Yet hunters from river communities often bring the animals or their parts to the vendors in Belén. Meat of wild animals, such as the caiman, paca (a large rodent), and collared peccary, a pig-like mammal, is widely available here. Live animals are also sold for pets or for food. People buy live yellow-footed turtles, for example, and slaughter them later. Animal parts – jaguar teeth, sloth claws, pink dolphin genitals – are sold for use in traditional medicine, nationally and internationally, or as luxury souvenirs.