Mar 14

A flock of 45 endangered Jamaican parrots recently hatched from smuggled eggs has highlighted concerns over the growing illegal trade in Jamaican wildlife.

Photo of yellow-billed Amazon young

Young yellow-billed Amazons in nest

The 23 yellow-billed Amazons and 22 black-billed Amazons were the survivors from 74 eggs smuggled into Austria by men posing as tourists. After being confiscated at Vienna Airport, the eggs were taken to Vienna’s Schönbrunn Zoo, where the hatchlings are now being cared for.

Found only in Jamaica, both parrot species are considered to be threatened with extinction and are protected by law, but it is not uncommon to see these and other local species on sale in tourist towns across the island.

Conservationists fear that as demand grows for rare and exotic species, Jamaican authorities will struggle to protect the island’s unique wildlife.

Photo of black-billed Amazon, rear view

Black-billed Amazon

Strengthening enforcement

Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which is responsible for protecting the island’s natural resources, says it is strengthening its enforcement capabilities and increasing general awareness of the value of local wildlife.

Another tool in countering the illegal wildlife trade is the 2010 State of the Environment Report, which assesses the state and quality of Jamaica’s natural resources and so aids in their sustainable management and conservation.

Yellow-billed Amazon portrait

Yellow-billed Amazon

There are also various projects and initiatives underway to help protect Jamaica’s wildlife, such as the Jamaica Sea Turtle Project, which educates local people about and protects the sea turtles which nest in Jamaica, and the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Program, which aims to protect the Jamaican ground iguana.

The largest land vertebrate native to Jamaica and one of the most endangered lizards in the world, the Jamaican ground iguana was believed extinct until the rediscovery of a small population in 1990. Since then, the project has greatly increased the number of breeding iguanas by removing hatchlings from the wild and raising them in captivity until they are large enough to fend off predators.

Growing illegal trade

Despite these efforts, some believe that the iguanas have not escaped smugglers. There are also reports of a growing number of private menageries and increasing cases of tourists placing orders for rare species, including hawksbill turtles, leatherback turtles, Cat Island freshwater turtles (Jamaican slider turtles) and Jamaican boas. Meanwhile, ring-tailed pigeons are reported to be in particular demand among wealthy locals.

Photo of juvenile Jamaican ground iguana on branch

Critically Endangered Jamaican ground iguana

Further threats to Jamaica’s native wildlife come from habitat loss due to illegal logging and charcoal burning, as well as from invasive species and a lack of law enforcement.

The enforcement of the laws is totally inadequate. Rangers monitor only the fringes and roads in protected areas,” said Dr Byron Wilson, a scientist at the University of the West Indies.

Speaking about the plight of the Jamaican ground iguana, he added, “We have one of the rarest lizards in the world, and we could lose it.”

Read more on this story at IPS – A growing illicit trade threatens Jamaica’s wildlife.

View photos and videos of species from Jamaica on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author