de Libertad (or, in English, “Hope for Freedom”)
is a Bolivian non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated
to forming an animal sanctuary in northern Bolivia. Why this
is important is a true lesson on how everything is connected,
from Bolivia to the U.S.
As a long-time animal rights activist, I have read about
and seen videos of the wildlife trade that is devastating
so many local ecosystems. I have also seen pictures of and
read about the devastation of the world’s rainforests
to create grazing land for cattle. But it was not until my
travels to South America that I saw all this firsthand. After
witnessing the reality of what people are doing to this beautiful
land and its animals, I became committed to making a difference
on their behalf.
While working at a primate sanctuary in Bolivia, I was lucky
enough to meet Franci, another animal activist who is now
Esperanza de Libertad’s Bolivian Project Coordinator.
In this sanctuary, I learned more about Bolivia’s environmental
crisis, and I got to know many of the animals on an intimate
level. Those animals helped me decide to create a sanctuary
for them—not only one that would work to rehabilitate
them so they could return to the wild, but one that would
protect their land.
Each year, about 32,000 wild-caught primates are sold on the
international market. About a third of them are imported into
the U.S. and sold for laboratory research, zoos, and circuses.
According to Conservation International’s "Primates
in Peril" report, at the current rate, one in five species
of primates could become extinct within one generation.
It is crucial to remember that animals taken from Bolivian
jungles end up all over the world. A monkey taken from the
jungles we walked through could end up in a vivisection lab
in the United States, a zoo in England, or a circus in Chile.
Bolivia, we saw people with boxes with parrots inside, destined
for the pet trade. We looked into their eyes and knew they
would not last long; only one in every four birds taken from
the wild survives in captivity.
Hunters who capture monkeys in the wild use a horrific method:
The mother is shot and the baby is taken from her. If members
of the group come in and try to protect the baby or mom, they
are also shot. This is all the more terrible because of the
close bonds between primate mothers and their children. For
example, howler monkeys stay on their mother’s backs
until they are two years old and stay nearby until they are
In the marketplaces, we often saw baby capuchin monkeys—crying
and weak-- tied to logs waiting to be transported out of northern
Bolivia. In Bolivia, these animals sell for about $3.50 each.
In the United States, they are sold as pets for $3,000.
One U.S. zoo is currently buying two jaguars from a zoo in
Bolivia. Many of these zoo animals are ex-“pets,”
whose caretakers found them to be too strong or too wild to
live with. In Bolivia, people hand these animals over to the
zoos or release them back into the jungles, where they cannot
survive. Either way, they are doomed.
In addition to learning about the stories and lives of the
animals in Bolivia, I discovered firsthand what was happening
to the land. Right now, land is being sold for about $30 an
acre in northern Bolivia, and large corporations are buying
it up. While I was there last year, both McDonalds and Burger
King bought up large portions of land for cattle.
Not only is land extremely cheap, but the government is now
starting to lease the land. Corporations just pay taxes on
the land, completely destroy it, and then give it back to
the Bolivian government.
Northern Bolivia is full of timber mills. Everywhere in Bolivia,
hillsides are being cut for grazing land. Aside from the immediate
loss of life this creates, clear cutting is very dangerous
because it leads to soil erosion, which eventually can precipitate
landslides and flooding.
But still the loggers are cutting twelve hours a day, seven
days a week. One day, we counted twenty logging trucks leaving
northern Bolivia. One logger told us that they could cut 700
acres (which is the amount of land Esperanza de Libertad is
planning to buy) in just two weeks.
Although Bolivia has strict laws regarding protection of the
environment and the animals, we saw little actual enforcement
of these laws. Illegal logging takes place on land belonging
to indigenous peoples as well as on government land. Jaguar
skins are illegal, but saw them hanging in restaurants everywhere.
In 1992, Bolivia passed a law (Law 1333) making it illegal
to keep wild animals in captivity. But we saw no regulation
of the number of animals being taken from the wild, and there
is virtually no control over the illegal trafficking of animals
on any of the Bolivian borders. The illegal wildlife trade
is a $5-billion-a-year business, second only to drugs as a
worldwide black market.
Unfortunately, industries (from the pet store industry to
the animal experimentation industry) are driving the demand
for these animals to be taken from their land in Bolivia.
Wild animals are transported under conditions so stressful
that many die in transit. Those who survive are destined for
lives of boredom and suffering.
How you can help
After all of my years of activism, I realized that I might
be able to help solve a problem before it becomes too large
to address. In Bolivia, we might have the opportunity to make
a dramatic impact on the exotic animal trade by giving the
people in Bolivia a place to take rescued animals and protecting
the land from further exploitation.
Esperanza de Libertad is now working to raise $20,000 to
buy 700 acres of land in Bolivia. The land will be spared
from deforestation and eventually will be used to rehabilitate
and release animals caught in the exotic animal trade. We
will also be hiring five armed guards to protect the animals
and the land. Guards deter poachers, and paying people to
protect the land is quite cheap—especially for animals
and land that are truly priceless.
Please visit www.esperanzadelibertad.org
or contact email@example.com
to find out how you can help!