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Smuggling exotic animals in CanadaIndia Blooms News Service
#Reptiles contraband, #Canada, #laws, #illegal trade, #wild animals, #exotic pets, #Environment Canada, #Canadian Food Inspection Agency, #Canadian Border Services Agency, #smuggling animals, #abandoned animals, #profit
During an investigation on the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ontario which was being monitored by Environment Canada, a few boxes containing 205 reptiles from different origin such as: Chinese striped turtles, African side neck turtles, South American red-footed tortoises, a serrated hinge-back tortoise, green iguanas and Jackson's chameleons were seized.
Lonny Coote, Environment Canada's director for wildlife enforcement in Ontario said that in Ontario alone, "we get about four or five files a year on average, so it happens quite frequently. Of course we don't know how much we're not detecting."
The man arrested on the shore of the St. Lawrence had handled more than 18,000 illegal reptiles over the years, an estimated value of roughly $700,000, according to documents obtained through search warrants, Coote said.
Animals such as chameleons, parrots, monkeys and tigers were not native to Canada, and were rare, and delivered directly to private buyers or pet stores who sold these as family pets.
Sources said that some reptiles were bred by owners in Canada cautiously, while others were sent across borders hidden under car seats, in shipping containers or by mail, causing dire health problems to these reptiles.
The scope of this black market was hard to estimate. According to The World Wildlife Fund wildlife was at present the fourth largest illegal trade after drugs, counterfeit money and human trafficking and is valued at roughly 19 billion US dollars per year globally.
Reptiles, experts said, were most common in contraband. In one notorious case, a Waterloo, Ontario man was caught smuggling dozens of turtles in his pants and is now serving a 57-month sentence in an American prison. Another person caught carried snakes in his socks.
People had sewn false pockets in their jackets to hold bird eggs and worn them on flights. Some coloured the pelts of Bengal or Serval cats to pass them off as regular cats.
Money was the main motive for those smuggling animals in bulk. Cote noted that a turtle bought for 50 cents can then be sold for hundreds of dollars.
Even if several animals died in transit, smugglers still made a profit, Coote said. "There's a mortality rate they're willing to accept."
Dennis Day pleaded guilty to illegally importing reptiles and was convicted of smuggling in 2013. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.
A third man who owned a reptile store in Montreal was also charged and convicted with illegal importation of reptiles and ordered to pay a $45,000 fine. He was also sued over the discovery of more than 250 reptile carcasses inside the building's walls. It was unclear where those reptiles came from.
Coote's well trained staff had seized animal contraband stored inside a government building on the Burlington, Ont., waterfront. "We're still trying to work on the judicial system to appreciate the seriousness of these violations, " Coote said.
Laws to determine how and which animals can be brought into Canada were presently enforced by three federal departments: Environment Canada looked into conservation laws, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency dealt with laws related to the animals’ health, and the Canadian Border Services Agency ensured proper declaration of all goods brought to Canada and flagged any suspicious cases to the other two departments.
Dennis Epp, who owned a pet store in Sudbury, Ont housed nearly 100 species of exotic pets said that many animals were born here from previously imported or smuggled animals and other animals have reproduced. "There's no one to fix them," Epp said.
Epp’s store contained many of the exotic animals which had been abandoned. But Epp runs an exhibit charging visitors between $10 and $14 for a chance to see the animals. Epp also hosted birthday parties in the 370-square metre exhibit at a minimum cost of $165 per group of eight children, and offered the animals for film and TV shoots.
Besides caring for the store's animals, some of which arrived under questionable circumstances, Epp kept several exotic pets such as a jungle cat, a Burmese python and two coatimundi, a South American relative of the raccoon, housing each in a spacious enclosure.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)