According to a report, illegal cattle breeding in Central American nature reserves is causing major problems: not only is the environment being destroyed, but indigenous groups are also suffering.

According to a report, illegal cattle breeding is carried out on deforested areas in Central American nature reserves – sometimes for export to international markets.

Smuggling cattle from Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala brings in millions of dollars and causes high levels of deforestation, environmental degradation and violence against indigenous communities, the authors of the report, published by security-focused journalism organization Insight Crime, wrote on Wednesday.

Deforested 1.3 million hectares in 35 years

“A portion of these cattle are smuggled into Mexico, where they either meet domestic demand for meat or are mixed with beef exports to the United States and other countries,” it said. The report, based on 14 months of research, looks at two wildlife sanctuaries in Nicaragua and one each in Honduras and Guatemala. These represented one of the largest and most important natural ecosystems on the continent, the authors pointed out.

In the past 35 years, a total of 1.3 million hectares have been deforested there. Around 70 percent of this area is used for animal husbandry. The origin of the cattle is concealed with the help of corrupt officials, and this is how the animals ended up in the legal trade chain. According to Insight Crime, an estimated 800,000 cattle are smuggled out of Guatemala every year in Mexico alone – an illegal market worth around $320 million (around €305 million).

Heavily armed organized crime groups are involved in cattle smuggling. The store also serves as a front for other illegal activities that are even more important to the gangs, it said, including drug and lumber smuggling and money laundering.