For two years the Civil Guard has been narrowing the circle on a international network of 21 people based in Spain and dedicated exclusively to the breeding and sale of protected species on the black market. Sergeant Ana Prieto of the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) defines them as criminals who “do not love animals.” They functioned integrated into two different networks that cooperated to bring exotic specimens and distribute them throughout Europe.
Although the rescued living beings originate from all corners of the planet, the main flow of the mafia came from South America, a place of great biological diversity thanks to the Amazon rainforest and governed -in some countries- by less protectionist legal frameworks than Europeans, and used Spain as the gateway to the old continent. That is why the 21 investigated resided in houses in Catalonia, Madrid, Galicia, Murcia and the Canary Islands. In the 14 registered homes there were farms with land and spaces prepared to keep the animals in very harsh conditions: piled up in very tight spaces. In Catalonia there have been 4 detainees and 3 entries into homes in Corbera de Llobregat, Masquefa and Riellas i Viabrea that have released 167 turtles and 5 shells.
The net used forged documentation to be able to circumvent international conventions. They subcontracted the collaboration of unlicensed ‘veterinarians’ who implanted chips in the specimens and groups of ‘mules’ that transported them on transoceanic flights.
Turtles in the suitcase
This mafia, like the others, brought the animals hidden inside the suitcases of plane travelers. Baby turtles or lizards rolled up in socks, locked in lunch boxes, or trapped in soda bottles. Extremely long trips from Brazil, Madagascar or Australia that cause extreme suffering to the creatures. So much so that, in most cases, it ends his life. The cruelty of this practice can be summed up in that for the smugglers, once all the additions and subtractions have been made, it is still profitable to lose most of the young along the way. That is, they know that very few will survive. But also that that is enough. “If, for example, they bring 15 baby toucans and only two live, they earn money,” explains Sergeant Prieto.
The term ‘mule’ has been extended to refer to passengers who bring drugs camouflaged in their luggage – or even inside the body – but it is forgotten that this type of concealment is also used for exotic animals. Environmental crime – to which animal trafficking belongs – is the third most lucrative illegal business according to Interpol, reasons Prieto. “Behind drug trafficking and forged documents,” he lists.
Among the rescued animals there are more than 300 different species of reptiles. There were, for example, specimens of the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) that only inhabits the Seychelles, or the radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata) from Madagascar, or the Fiji crested iguana -in serious danger of extinction-, or from a large variety of Gecko lizards. The giants can reach a meter in length and the radiated ones half a meter. You can pay up to 30,000 euros.
The gang also traded the shells of dead animals. The price of animals, or parts of them, varies according to fashions, like the one that encouraged people to buy iguanas to keep in home terrariums. Mafias such as the one now dismantled by the Civil Guard attend to those whims of citizens who are unaware that it is an illegal activity, which entails high suffering for animals and which can also unleash “an attack against the natural balance,” recalls the sergeant. Many invasive species – such as the American tortoise and crab or the Argentine parrot – that compromise native life also landed in Spain on a ‘whim’.
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