Wildlife trafficking is one of the most lucrative forms of illegal activity in the world, and a new report finds Florida caught in the crosshairs.
Each year, more than 350 million plants and animals are sold on the black market, and according to a new study by Defenders of Wildlife, two of the top five trade routes cross through Florida.
Alejandra Goyenechea, senior international counsel with Defenders, says most people think of wildlife trafficking as something happening far away, involving big game like elephants and rhino. But she says at least $2 billion of smuggled wildlife, including many endangered species, comes into the U.S. each year.
"We find them in small leather products, we find them as dead animals," she says. "We find them as meat, we find them as eggs, and also as products in shoes, wallets, in purses."
According to the report, the most commonly trafficked animals from Latin America include queen conch, sea turtles, caimans, crocodiles and iguanas. Of the 328 ports of entry into the United States, only 18 are designated for the import and export of wildlife and staffed full-time by U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspectors.
Goyenechea says while more funding and resources for law enforcement will go a long way, the public can play a role in cracking down on wildlife trafficking simply by being smart consumers.
"Practice responsible tourism by carefully choosing destinations, activities, and purchases," she says. "Ask what is that they're purchasing, where it's coming from."
President Obama has referred to wildlife trafficking as an international crisis, citing the loss of species worldwide that results from the illegal activity.