TED2010

Juliana Machado Ferreira: The fight to end rare-animal trafficking in Brazil

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Biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira, a TED Senior Fellow, talks about her work helping to save birds and other animals stolen from the wild in Brazil. Once these animals are seized from smugglers, she asks, then what?

- Biologist
Brazilian-born biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira wants, simply, to save the world one bird at a time. She is a TED Senior Fellow. Full bio

Illegal wildlife trade in Brazil
00:15
is one of the major threats against our fauna,
00:19
especially birds,
00:22
and mainly to supply the pet market
00:24
with thousands of animals taken from nature every month,
00:27
and transported far from their origins,
00:31
to be sold mainly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
00:34
It is estimated that
00:38
all kinds of illegal wildlife trade in Brazil
00:40
withdraw from nature
00:43
almost 38 million animals every year,
00:45
a business worth almost two billion dollars.
00:49
The police intercepts
00:53
these huge cargos with live animals,
00:55
intended to supply the pet market,
00:58
or they seize the animals directly from the people's houses,
01:01
and this is how we end up, every month,
01:05
with thousands of seized animals.
01:08
And for us to understand what happens with them,
01:12
we're going to follow Brad.
01:14
In the eyes of many people,
01:18
after the animals are seized,
01:20
they say, "Yay, justice has been served.
01:22
The good guys arrived,
01:25
took the cute, mistreated animals
01:27
from the hands of the evil traffickers,
01:29
and everyone lived happily ever after."
01:31
But did they? Actually, no,
01:36
and this is where many of our problems begin.
01:38
Because we have to figure out
01:41
what to do with all these animals.
01:43
In Brazil, they are usually first sent
01:46
to governmental triage facilities,
01:48
in which most of the cases,
01:51
the conditions are as bad as
01:53
with the traffickers.
01:55
In 2002, these centers received
01:57
45,000 animals,
02:00
of which 37,000 were birds.
02:03
And the police estimates that we seize
02:06
only five percent of what's being trafficked.
02:08
Some lucky ones -- and among them, Brad --
02:12
go to serious rehabilitation centers after that.
02:15
And in these places they are cared for.
02:18
They train their flying,
02:22
they learn how to recognize the food they will find in nature,
02:24
and they are able to socialize
02:27
with others from the same species.
02:29
(Laughter)
02:31
But then what?
02:33
The Brazil Ornithological Society --
02:35
so now we're talking only birds --
02:37
claims that we have too little knowledge
02:40
about the species in nature.
02:43
Therefore, it would be too risky
02:45
to release these animals,
02:47
both for the released and for the natural populations.
02:49
They also claim that we spend too many resources
02:53
in their rehabilitation.
02:56
Following this argument,
02:58
they suggest that all the birds
03:00
seized from non-threatened species
03:02
should be euthanized.
03:05
However, this would mean having killed
03:07
26,267 birds,
03:11
only in the state of São Paulo, only in 2006.
03:15
But, some researchers, myself included --
03:20
some NGOs and some people from the Brazilian government --
03:24
believe there is an alternative.
03:28
We think that if and when the animals meet
03:30
certain criteria concerning their health,
03:34
behavior, inferred origin
03:37
and whatever we know about the natural populations,
03:39
then technically responsible releases are possible,
03:43
both for the well-being of the individual,
03:47
and for the conservation of the species and their ecosystems,
03:50
because we will be returning genes for these populations --
03:54
which could be important for them
03:58
in facing environmental challenges --
04:00
and also we could be returning
04:03
potential seed dispersers, predators, preys, etc.
04:05
All of these were released by us.
04:11
On the top, the turtles are just enjoying freedom.
04:13
(Laughter)
04:15
On the middle,
04:17
this guy nested a couple of weeks after the release.
04:19
And on the bottom, my personal favorite,
04:22
the little male over there,
04:25
four hours after his release
04:27
he was together with a wild female.
04:29
So, this is not new, people have been
04:33
doing this around the world.
04:35
But it's still a big issue in Brazil.
04:37
We believe we have performed
04:39
responsible releases.
04:41
We've registered released animals mating in nature
04:43
and having chicks.
04:47
So, these genes are indeed going back to the populations.
04:49
However this is still a minority
04:54
for the very lack of knowledge.
04:56
So, I say, "Let's study more, let's shed light on this issue,
04:59
let's do whatever we can."
05:02
I'm devoting my career to that.
05:04
And I'm here to urge each and every one of you
05:06
to do whatever is in your reach:
05:09
Talk to your neighbor, teach your children,
05:11
make sure your pet is from a legal breeder.
05:14
We need to act, and act now,
05:17
before these ones are the only ones left.
05:20
Thank you very much.
05:23
(Applause)
05:25

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About the Speaker:

Juliana Machado Ferreira - Biologist
Brazilian-born biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira wants, simply, to save the world one bird at a time. She is a TED Senior Fellow.

Why you should listen

TED Senior Fellow Juliana Machado Ferreira is pursuing her doctorate in Conservation Genetics at the Laboratory of Evolutionary Biology and Vertebrate Conservation (LABEC) at São Paulo University. Her current project involves developing species-specific molecular markers and population genetics studies of four passerine birds, with the aim to understand the distribution of their genetic variability and to track down the origin of birds seized from illegal trade.

She works closely with the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, and her ultimate goal is to help set up a Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Brazil.

Read a Q&A with Juliana on the TED Fellows site >>

More profile about the speaker
Juliana Machado Ferreira | Speaker | TED.com