A street market in Peru with leopard skins and other animal products hanging

Risky Business: Peru markets

Risky Business: Peru market illegally selling wild animals is a ‘public health threat’ say experts

World Animal Protection has revealed over 200 species of wild animals sourced from the Amazon rainforest are being illegally sold in shocking conditions at urban markets in Iquitos, Peru. There are serious concerns for animal welfare, species conservation and the health of communities that rely on this market for their living.


Serious health concerns 


Our new report ‘Risky business: How Peru’s wildlife markets are putting animals and people at risk’ puts the Belén market in the spotlight, where wild mammals, reptiles and birds are being sold both live and dead as derivatives, with some animals being slaughtered on site. The Belén market, which is considered the largest open-air market selling wildlife in the Peruvian Amazon, has few to no health and safety measures in place to prevent zoonotic diseases from spreading from wildlife to people. This poses a huge health risk to people as wild animals are known to transmit deadly diseases to humans, such as COVID-19, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and Ebola.


Wildlife products 


Wild animals such as jaguars, primates, sloths, river dolphins, manatees, turtles, macaws, snakes, and capybaras were all found on sale at the market, some were alive and kept in dire conditions. The animals are mostly sold as wild meat, but also as luxury pets and for spiritual, medicinal and decorative use. Concerningly, around one in 10 of these species are threatened with extinction, posing a real concern for species’ survival.  

While animals such as caimans and turtles were mainly being sold as wild meat, other animals were reportedly sold for more unusual, belief-based uses such as:  


  • Dolphin’s genitalia and eyes were sold as ingredients to create an aphrodisiacal perfume called “pusanga” which is thought to bring luck or ensure seduction;  
  • sloth claws and the dried heads of yellow-footed tortoises were sold to ‘tame jealous men,’ and to ‘prevent a violent jealous reaction’;  
  • Tapir (large, herbivorous mammals) nails were sold to treat hemorrhages, and; 
  • armadillo tails were sold for inner ear pain.     


Shocking images show dried monkeys with their innards cut out, severed sloth claws, the skins of ocelots hanging and meat from various mammals piled high. Animals such as birds were also captured on camera, crammed into tiny metal cages to be sold into the exotic pet trade.  


The commercial trade in wild animals at urban markets, such as Belén market, is illegal in Peru1. However, illegal wildlife trade activity is an on-going issue. The Peruvian police authorities have attempted to clamp down on this type of activity, although officials interviewed as part of the investigation stated that it is challenging to monitor as wildlife vendors are constantly moving without fixed stalls, and operate on an opportunistic basis.