I named him Boo, which is short for Bugio, the word for Howler Monkey in Portuguese. He is only a few months old and his head is around the size of a small plum. His long fingers gently pulled at my skin as he slowly struggled to climb up my arm. He clung to my shirt and lightly wrapped his tail around my neck, which sent a faint tickle throughout my body. Then he rested his delicate head on my shoulder, and nuzzled closer to my neck. He needed to be held and comforted by the warmth of a body in order to feel safe, just like us. I was his replacement for a mother figure that he would not know and never have. His mother was killed, her body split open in order for her babies to be pulled out and sold for a whopping price of R$15,000 ($660) by an illegal trafficking ring. They are sold to rich people who are bored of the usual domesticated cats and dogs. My mind wandered to Veronica Salt from Willy Wonka shouting, “I want it now daddy!” when I think about the people who are greedy enough to strip a baby away from its mother for their own pleasure. Boo arrived at R3 Animal today, the NGO where I am volunteering after he was rescued from poachers. As soon as he looked at me with his round brown eyes, my heart dropped as I saw the fear, confusion, naïveté, longing and sadness swirling around his irises and shifting the shape of his brows.
Wildlife trafficking is one of the most profitable, illicit businesses in the world and Brazil makes up around “fifteen percent of this trade,” poaching around “thirty-eight million animals every year” (RENCTAS). These animals are forced to travel in extremely harsh conditions, often shoved into cardboard boxes and treated like objects. Only “one out of ten animals survives the journey” (RENCTAS) when they are transported to countries outside of Brazil. Animal rehabilitation centers like the one I am volunteering in are becoming more common, due to the increase in trafficking, however money spent to support these organizations is lacking. Therefore, the facilities are poor and often must rely on volunteer staff, and many animals have a small chance of survival even after being saved from the traffickers.
R3 Animal has received various bird species, including macaws, parrots and toucans, which are common throughout Brazil and sadly, beautiful enough to sell. The macaws are a lightning blue, speckled with yellow feathers and are majestic as they open their wings either in fear or flight. One month ago, however, there were three macaws that arrived without these colorful feathers because they fell out during the stress they were put through. Their beauty was gone, stolen from them by greedy people and they appeared before us weak, vulnerable, and close to death. These are the saddest cases because we all know there is not much we can do in order to save their already fragile lives.
The animal trafficking business has a significant class element. Poachers tend to be people who are driven to sell animals in order to feed their family and who try not to think twice about the lives they are ending in the process. The buyers, on the other hand, the people with the wealth and audacity to buy these poor creatures, are the ones we should really be blaming, as they are the ones who allow this two billion dollar business to strive. Wild animals should not be domesticated. They should not be stripped away from their mothers in order for a person who has too much money to be able to cuddle the animal and call it cute. It is modern day slavery, but because we do not view animals to be as important as humans, we turn our heads away from the bitterness of this horrible trade.
As soon as Boo felt the familiar warmth from my body, like his mother’s, he held on and did not want to let go. He is a gentle-hearted and trusting animal, a quality that leads him and his species into the nets of the poachers. It is their trust in the human race that brings them hurt and suffering. When I look at Boo’s face, I pity his vulnerability and the emptiness he can expect in his future, as he will never know what it is like to be free.
“RENCTAS: The Brazilian NGO on the Frontline of the War on Animal Trafficking.” The Ecologist. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.