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Trafficked Animals Finally Free, Released Back into Amazon

Mar 18, 2015 06:23 PM EDT

A sight somewhat resembling the hull of Noah's Arc, conservationists in Colombia transported nearly 150 animals, seized from illegal traffickers, and plan to release them back into their natural Amazon habitats after being rehabilitated.

The animals, including 13 mammals such as wild cats and Capuchin monkeys, 53 birds and 83 reptiles, experienced 10 months of rehabilitation - such as surgery when necessary to heal skin and recover plumage, according to the environmental authority of the country's Valle del Cauca department.

While there may be some concerns that this group of 149 animals may not survive in the wild after being held captive for so long, rest assured wildlife officials have taken this risk into consideration.

"We selected individual animals that could defend themselves in their environment, who weren't too far along in adulthood so they wouldn't fall easy prey," Lorena Gomez, a biologist with Valle del Cauca authority, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

While being kept in conditions similar to their jungle habitats, the animals underwent thorough medical exams to ensure they would not carry diseases when released back into their native habitats to join natural populations in the wild, authorities said. Not to mention the trafficked animals were isolated with other members of their species.

The animals were placed in crates and loaded into a Colombian Air Force plane for 2-hour flight departing the city of Palmira for the town of Solano.

From there they will be put on by boat for a 5-hour trip deep into the Amazonian jungle to be released, officials said.

In the past two years, Colombia has seized about 55,000 wild animals and plants in operations against illegal traffickers, who often operate to finance criminal gangs, said the country's Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

Wildlife trafficking is a huge issue in Colombia, as well as in other parts of the world - a fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry addressed last year in China at an international conference.

"Wildlife trafficking does not exist in a vacuum," he announced at the event held in Beijing. "It is connected with many of the other 21st century challenges that we face, including terrorism. And it demands a common response."

"So, wildlife trafficking, yes, it's a conservation problem. But it's also an economic problem, it's a health problem, it's a security problem," he added.

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