Colombian Navy Focuses on Environmental Security and Defense

Combating illegal wildlife smuggling: one of the main incentives for protecting non-renewable biodiversity.
Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 8 November 2016

Transnational Threats

By the end of August 2016, troops from the 17th Battalion, 1st Marine Corps Brigade, seized 1,200 cubic meters of wood at the Magdalena River. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

The Colombian Navy is working throughout its territory to combat the illegal trafficking of flora and fauna and to protect Colombia's unique and diverse natural resources.

To effectively take action against and control illegal wildlife smuggling as well as illegal logging and wood trade, “the troops, through checkpoint operations at land and river routes, in coordination with the police, we have results every week,” said Marine Corps Colonel Carlos Enrique Montenegro, commander of the 1st Marine Corps Brigade in Corozal, Sucre.

The Colombian Navy’s Strategic Environmental Plan 2013 – 2030 considers combating the illicit trade in wild species, regulating the irrational exploitation of natural resources, and protecting a variety of wildlife species in danger of extinction. So far in 2016, they have dealt a heavy blow to the finances of criminal groups operating in different areas of the country that are doing business in the illegal trafficking of natural resources. The Colombian Navy has also prevented the smuggling; sale, and exploitation of 11,899 living protected species and 4,212 cubic meters of wood.

“The smuggling of wood and wildlife are some of the main drivers of the loss of non-renewable biodiversity in the country. These actions are linked to other types of illicit activities like drug trafficking,” said María Piedad Baptiste, researcher at Colombia's Alexander Von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute to Diálogo.

“The country is a target for extraction of wildlife species due to the demand that exists for these varieties at risk for extinction, both in legal and illegal trade,” stressed Baptiste. On the other hand, Colombia is considered the number one country in terms of global diversity of amphibians and birds, number two in plants, third in reptiles, and fifth in mammals, the Navy specified in its plan.

Illegal smugglers

Illegal smugglers of wild flora and fauna imprison live animals like capuchin monkeys, macaws, flamingos, turtles, capybaras, boas, oncillas, and various birds to sell them for thousands of dollars for use as pets, to the fashion industry, or for food. “There are exotic birds and mammals that could cost thousands of dollars,” indicated Col. Montenegro.

These species are caught in different departments of the country to be transported to various regions around the world.

Over 1,500 species of protected wild flora and fauna are trafficked illegally in Colombia according to SIB Colombia.net, a website on biodiversity.

This activity results in the movement of approximately $ 22 billion worldwide each year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2016 World Wildlife Crime Report. Along with drug trafficking and the smuggling of arms and people, this illegal activity is among the four major transnational crimes, according to the European Union’s Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, published on February 26th, 2016.

The Police have identified these criminals as individuals who are organized in networks of smugglers, usually in groups of family members or friends. These groups have boats, farms, warehouses, and the vehicles they need to facilitate the transportation and trade operations of groups of gatherers (farmers, fishermen, and members of indigenous communities) of illegal wild flora and fauna.

Illegal wood smuggling has also proliferated in Colombia. The most trafficked species are black cedar, Colombian palm, and carob, which are in danger of extinction. The forests of the Pacific and the Amazon are some of the favorite places for those who are behind this illegal commerce and who have connections in Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

Working together

Between August and October, troops from the 17th Battalion of the 1st Marine Corps Brigade executed an operation on the Magdalena River, Colombia's main fluvial artery. By the end of August, they had already confiscated 1,200 cubic meters of different species of wood. The boards were tied in barge form and were transported by two 40-horsepower electric engines.

“This is one of the largest seizures carried out by the Colombian Navy. We spent a month and a half transporting this wood. To date, we have recovered 600 cubic meters of boards, however, with the rains, the material has had a lot of damage,” said Col. Montenegro.

Every month since July 15, 2015, the Colombian Armed Forces have been collaborating closely with the National Environmental Control Roundtable, comprising the specialized body of the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, the Environmental Police, the Ministry of the Environment, National Parks, and the Association of Autonomous Regional Corporations and Sustainable Development.

Col. Montenegro pointed out that these actions should be accompanied by a “stronger environmental policy in terms of penalties and the procedures that can be done to definitively root out smugglers”.

The illegal smuggling of wild flora and fauna is penalized in Colombia by Law 1333 from 2009. Fines range from 5,000 minimum wages (some $ 1,100) up to prison terms of 4 or 9 years. “The penalties are very low,” added Col. Montenegro.

Meanwhile, the Humboldt Institute is working to identify wildlife that has been the victim of illegal trafficking in the country through the use of barcodes. “This measure helps us have more control over the species, especially those that are endemic and endangered,” concluded Baptiste. This information is a very useful tool for the judicial and environmental authorities in their fight against criminals.

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