With great care, Yesenia Talavera transfers a small frog from a plant, where it was sleeping, to a plastic container with breathing holes, a damp sponge and a place to jump.
Along with over 2,600 other creatures ranging from tarantulas to boa constrictors, the little red-eyed amphibian is preparing for a long journey from Nicaragua to the United States, where it will become someone’s pet.
Their ancestors collected from the rainforests of Central America, the frogs, snakes, spiders, lizards and turtles are bred for export at Exotic Fauna, a company calling itself a “zoo farm” in a suburban from the capital Managua.
Government-licensed, Exotic Fauna has been breeding 18 exotic animal species for 15 years for export to the United States, Canada and Asia.
The critters are in high demand “by people who want to adopt something other than routine dogs or cats,” Talavera, who runs the establishment with her husband Eduardo Lacayo, told AFP.
Talavera and a team are hard at work preparing a Miami company’s latest order for 1,200 red-eyed tree frogs and glass frogs, 290 basilisk and pitcher lizards, 800 spiders including tarantulas, and 350 boa constrictors.
They are deposited in containers with breathing holes – the boas in cloth bags – before being packed in wooden boxes marked “Live animals” under the eyes of an inspector from the Ministry of the Environment.
The creatures are not sedated. “These animals can withstand 24-hour and up to three-day trips” without eating, Talavera said.
The cargo will be trucked to Managua International Airport, from where, after clearing customs, they will depart the next day on a commercial flight to Miami.
The Ministry of the Environment promotes the breeding of exotic species, organizing training sessions and congresses to encourage more Nicaraguans among a population of 6.5 million to venture into this lucrative field.
The government says nearly 40,000 Nicaraguan families are already involved in such ventures in one of Latin America’s poorest countries.
Exports, however, remain the domain of a handful of private companies. In 2019, according to official figures, the export of exotic pets brought in some $300,000, although a recent newspaper article put the value at more than double.
Many animals never do
Exotic Fauna states on its website that “the utmost care is taken in raising and handling” the animals, and that its processes were “100%” compliant with international wildlife trade protocols.
According to Eduardo Sacasa, president of the National Zoo of Nicaragua, as long as the animals are not taken from the wild and raised in centers such as Exotic Fauna that recreate their natural environment, “it’s not bad.”
Talavera’s husband, Lacayo, added: “We take from nature once, only once, and we select the product that we export.”
But the NGO People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which advocates for an end to the trade in exotic species, says the practice is cruel and many would-be ‘pets’ never survive the journey to their new home. home.
“Those who survive often suffer in captivity and die prematurely from malnutrition, an unnatural and uncomfortable environment, loneliness and the overwhelming stress of confinement,” PETA states on its website.
Frogs sold for entertainment
Lacayo said he sold many frogs during the Covid-19 outbreak as people in quarantine sought “entertainment”.
American customers, he added, were particularly fond of tarantulas, which are poisonous but not dangerous to humans.
To tide them over during the long journey, the frogs are given an extra serving of crickets, which are also raised on the farm.
Tarantulas are fed insects and worms, but boas are left empty-bellied.
In the case of snakes, says Exotic Fauna worker Harlintong Bonilla: “We give them food two or three days before, so that they have digested the food well and don’t vomit along the way.” .