Pistols, Cocaine and Big Cats – A look into the exotic animal black market.
Every year in the UK zoos and wildlife parks alike enter into meticulously planned breeding programmes for conservation and educational reasons. There is however, a third reason, baby animals attract extra people into the parks and boost revenue, especially during the summer months. Hundreds of endangered species are born in Britain; but most of them are unwanted. Male animals tend to disrupt the park’s breeding programmes and are increased security risk and so they become surplus to requirement, so where do they go?
The common perception is that the Animals are traded between zoo’s to facilitate gaps in their breeding programmes. This is true for state run zoo’s as they are required to do so by law, but with over 140 private wildlife parks in Britain there are many that do not legally have to trade their animals. This is how they end up in the lucrative black market for exotic animals
As a 19 billion dollar industry, the global exotic animal black market is only surpassed by drugs, weapons and human trafficking. The men who supply the animals have no knowledge of how to care for these animals nor do they care what happens to them after the sale is made. Over 200 surplus animals from Zoos are entered into this market annually where they are then shipped around the world for varying reasons. The movement of animals is made easy by the parks permits and due to the fact that there is little or no police presence or knowledge on the legislation of exotic animals. The low risk and high reward is what makes the industry so appealing to criminals. It seems that once you put the word “wildlife” before a crime the severity status absolutely diminishes. The maximum sentence dealt out (to the most notorious wildlife smuggler active today “The Lizard King”, Mr.Anson Wong,) for animals trafficking has been 5 years, with most of those caught receiving only a fine
In Europe and the UK the largest supplier is a man known as Chris Bienvenue. He has been known to deal some of the rarest species on Earth, such as the Persian Leopard, Orang-utans and Duck Billed Platypus. He himself insists that although these endangered species face extinction in the wild, there are places all over the world that breed them like puppy farms for the exotic animals black market. In a sting operation that took place in the years between 2000-2005 – undercover animal rights activists found that Chris Bienvenue had bought and sold animals with Chessington, Hammerton and Blackpool Zoo’s after they were faced with surplus animals from breeding.
The Irish capital, Dublin also has a booming animal black market. This is due to the relative ease in which animals can be shipped into Northern Ireland under UK law and then smuggled south of the border into the Republic of Ireland where they can be sold for profit. Wolves and Bear cubs can be bought for a price of €100-€250 whereas rarer species such as big cats and primates go for around €500. These animals are kept in horrendous conditions. A teenage Chimpanzee was reportedly held inside an empty oil drum covered in its own waste for 6 months before it was sold.
But why would anybody want to buy these exotics in the first place?
Many who do buy them have more money than brains and are almost definitely impulse buyers. It is usually associated with their ego and the prestige that comes with owning a rare or dangerous species. It became normalised in popular culture after images of Mike Tyson’s seven tigers were released. In America the Exotic Feline Rescue Centre houses over 225 rescued big cats after they were abandoned or neglected by their owners. Legislation in the US is run State by State and is typically blasé about the housing of exotics. The public demanded better however after an incident in Ohio called the “Zanesville Massacre” in which a man released 70 big cats from his farm before committing suicide. By the end of the night all the cats were destroyed by the authorities.
The other reason is the animals are bought to be hunted. In Britain and the US big game hunting is a popular and illegal sport. Landowners buy these animals and then allow people onto their property to hunt them, for meat, a mount, or both. A shot at a giraffe or tiger can earn the dealer anything between $40’000-$70’000 per animal. One farm in the US has a family of Western Lowland Gorillas which are critically endangered in the wild and sells them to hunters for $80’000. It is a highly lucrative business
The exotic animal black market continues to thrive even to this day with policing still years behind where it needs to be. The world needs to see tougher sentences dealt out for animal related crime, units assigned to police the situation and better border control knowledge on animal species and the regulation that surrounds them. I suppose at some point in all of our lives we have pondered how cool it would be to own a tiger or a wolf as a companion, but you can see from this article it is not worth it! That being said, I feel compelled to add that zoos all over the world have excellent animal practice and are incredibly important tools for research, conservation, education and as genetic arks if a species are faced with extinction. This article was written to highlight only those who do not comply with the standards of top quality institutions. Save yourself and many of the world’s endangered species the drama and adopt a puppy from your local SPCA or pound instead!
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