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Legal figures appease punishment for wildlife trafficking in Ecuador; collectives ask to reform the Comprehensive Penal Code

The conditional suspension of the sentence or alternative measures are questioned. There is also a call to the population not to buy wild animals.

Malnourished, confused and scared a wasteland fox was rescued (Lycalopex) at the end of November in Durán. The animal was taken from its habitat to be turned into a pet. According to the police report, people from an urbanization assured that the fox “entered” their house and that is why they called the agents. There were no detainees. The animal was taken to the Fundación Proyecto Sacha and then transferred to the Quito Zoo this week to continue its recovery.

It is not the first time that people deliver wild animals claiming that they do not know what to do, this happens a lot with turtles, indicates Martín Bustamante, director of the Quito Zoo. In fact, last year they received a baby sea turtle that was taken from an Esmeraldas beach as a “souvenir”.

According to the National Environmental Protection Police Unit of Ecuador, between 2019 and 2020 about 8,707 wild animals were rescued. Until July 2021, another 3,812 were rescued, that is, in the first six months of this year the number of specimens rescued would rise to that of previous years.

But this increase is not only what worries different environmental organizations, but also the action of justice. In the majority of cases in which there are prosecuted persons, those involved resort to two legal figures, found in the Comprehensive Penal Code, to get out of jail: alternative measures and the conditional suspension of the sentence.

An example was the release of the ex-police officer involved in the trafficking of 185 baby turtles in Galapagos. The man was sentenced to three years in prison and paid $ 639,100. The Court accepted the appeal presented by the defense in which the conditional suspension of the sentence was requested. The man will not be able to leave the country for the duration of the rest of the sentence (he had been in prison for eight months) and must pay the fine in 28 installments.

This almost becomes an incentive for traffic. Once the crime is detected, there is also a way to forgive it. How will the ex-police officer pay? Will they try to pay or will they say that it is so much money that it cannot be paid?”, Asks Bustamante.

For Julia Salvador, coordinator to combat illegal wildlife trafficking at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Ecuador, the criminal structures behind species trafficking make the fight against this crime more complex.

To this is added that in the country we have very weak sanctions. For this crime, only three years in prison are given, but alternative measures can be applied and the person can leave without serving three years in prison. In the country there are very powerful people, who are behind this crime, who do not want a reform of the Penal Code”, dice.

In recent months, several groups have asked to increase the sentence to five years, modify the legal figures such as the conditional suspension of the sentence and the alternative measures for environmental crimes, and, especially, that the same punishment not be granted, for example, to a person who sold a parrot than to another who trafficked hundreds of shark fins. Also make a differentiation between internal and international traffic.

“A charapa tortoise can be bought for $ 5 or $ 10, but a Galapagos tortoise can cost up to $ 60,000 in the international market,” says Bustamante. The two crimes receive the same penalty.

WCS has conducted trainings for judges and prosecutors to address, among other issues, the misuse of legal forms that allow traffickers to get out of jail. In addition, Salvador looks forward to the announcement, which was made last April, about the creation of a unit dedicated to Environmental Crimes within the Prosecutor’s Office, but believes that a reform of the law is necessary.

Last Tuesday, WCS, Quito Zoo, Sacha Project, among other organizations, launched the campaign “Your house is not my habitat”, to raise awareness about the trafficking of species and discourage its purchase this month, since by Christmas people they tend to acquire these animals as pets. This initiative takes place within the framework of the regional project Alliance for Wildlife and Forests, funded by the European Union. “As a result of the campaigns, people find that it is unethical or technical to have a wild animal as a pet,” says Bustamante. (I)

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