SOS Rhino Specials
Rhino Species
Rhino FAQ

Other News ::

Current Rhino News
Archived News
Press Releases

SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : March 2000 : Drugs, weapons and wildlife

Drugs, weapons and wildlife

By Ivan RemiaS
The Prague Post
March 8, 2000

- Smuggling exotic animals is big business in the Czech Republic Honzik Drabek cradles his new turtle. He's not likely to care that it's from Uzbekistan. He's even less likely to guess that for every turtle that survives the trip, several do not. For 10-year-old Honzik, the idea that for every "legal" turtle, there are hundreds of smuggled ones, might be a bit too hard to grasp. Honzik, his eyes gleaming, is concerned only with naming his new pet. "I'll call him Pepa," he tells his father, who pays 450 Kc (dollar 13) to a vendor. "Pepa" is among dozens of species on sale at a licensed animal market in a local sports hall in Prague's Brumlovka suburb. While most of the animals on sale come from legal farms, with documentation regarding their background, some are imports of more dubious origin - and for every legally imported and sold animal, dimmer deals are often struck. Trading in wild animals is a lucrative and largely unregulated business in the Czech Republic. In the Brumlovka display are lizards, snakes, tortoises and shrieking birds. They give the hall a tropic-zone atmosphere.

Animal breeding boomed under communism, and many former breeders have become importers since 1989. Some of the former breeders, seeking fast cash, have turned to the extensive black market in exotic animals. Case in point: Ales Havelka, a Czech national, was sentenced in January to a month in prison by a Melbourne court after trying to smuggle 31 endangered reptiles out of Australia.

The estimated value of each of the reptiles was dollar 2,000 (72,000 Kc). The sale value could be up to 10 times that, officials say. Big business Best estimates suggest that trading in exotic, mostly endangered, species is a dollar 5 billion global industry, which puts it in the same category as drugs and weapons among black market businesses. Such creatures as black stork, parrots, crocodiles, Kimodo dragons, iguanas, eagles, falcons, boas, even Indian elephants and the rhinoceros, are included in the extensive clandestine traffic.

In 1975, dozens of governments signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

By last year, 145 nations had signed on. "The agreement lists around 5,000 animals and 25,000 plants that are broken down into three categories with regard to how at risk they are," says Ladislav Miko, deputy director of the state-run Czech Environmental Inspection Office (CIZP) in Prague. Ostensibly, special permissions are required for trading in the listed species. But the loopholes are as many and varied as the species traded. While Prague ratified the so-called Washington agreement in 1993 - a pact that further restricted trading in wild animals and plants - government officials said enforcement wouldn't begin for four years. Moreover, violators are so far liable only for fines. Miko's office is now pushing for stricter guidelines and tougher punishment. One out of every four smuggled creatures usually dies in transit. "We're trying to convince law enforcement officials to pass legislation that sends smugglers to jail," CIZP inspector Petra Rihova says. Fines no deterrent According to Rihova, rich smugglers are top-heavy with legal counsel to help them dodge fines.

Under the current law, convicted smugglers face a high-end fine of 200,000 Kc. Repeat offenders may be required to pay as much as 2 million Kc. "The fines rarely exceed 50,000 Kc, a sum that smugglers can easily pay," she says, hinting at potential corruption among regional inspectors. Moreover, the risk of modest fines hardly deters veteran traffickers eager to cash in on the growing European demand for exotica. "In Africa," Rihova says, "you can get a gray parrot for a mere dollar 6, but here you sell it for dollar 230." When smuggled to Germany, the same bird can fetch dollar 1,050. "Even if half of the animals die on the way here, it doesn't matter to the smugglers if they transport hundreds," Rihova adds. Last year, 111 cases of animal smuggling were documented, up from a mere nine in 1997. Despite greater vigilance, CIZP inspectors believe that they catch only a third of the illegal hauls. In general, animal traders dismiss the charges. Zbynek Laube, an animal trader from the central Bohemian town of Kosice, says both inspectors and environmental activists exaggerate. "Today, most of the animals come from farms," Laube says. "The state officials in these (foreign) countries wouldn't even let you export the animals if you can't prove you bought them from farmers." For seven years, Laube's firm, Farma Aves, has been importing animals mostly from Asia, Africa and South America. The demand for certain species often varies from season to season. "It's just a matter of fashion," Laube says. "One year, parrots from South America are 'in' and you can't bring in enough of them; the next year, it's turtles or fish."

Ivan Remias's e-mail address is




Privacy Policy