Police in Peru have seized more than 16,000 dried seahorses which were to be exported illegally to Asian countries.
Peruvian authorities say the traffickers ran away and abandoned their illicit cargo on a street in the capital, Lima. Police chief Victor Fernandez told the BBC the cargo could have fetched up to $250,000 (£160,000) abroad. Seahorse fishing is illegal in Peru, but the high prices paid for seahorse powder abroad make it difficult for the authorities to enforce the ban.
Mr Fernandez said the cargo – three cases weighing 27.5kg (60 pounds) – was left behind following a police operation near the Lima’s airport. “They are sent to Asian countries and used as aphrodisiacs. In China this product is also used to cure asthma,” he told the BBC’s Mattia Cabitza in Lima.
The marine fish, which finds northern Peru’s warmer waters a perfect breeding ground, is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) but Mr Fernandez said that last year a total of 20 tonnes of dried seahorses were seized across the world – half a tonne in Peru alone.
Seahorses are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. In the last five years, the Seahorse population has dropped by fifty percent. The biggest threat to Seahorses comes from humans. They are over collected to be used as pets, dried and sold in gift shops or for use in traditional Chinese medicines. Trade is now restricted by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), however many of the biggest consumers of Seahorses have opted out and are still collecting seahorses in record numbers.
This is another case where traditional Chinese medicine does harm to the ecosystem.