Czech authorities aim to curb animal smuggling

Australian customs officers recently uncovered 15 geckos in parcels that someone had attempted to smuggle to the Czech Republic, most of them dead due to the lack of feed, water and air. The attempt to smuggle exotic animals to the Czech Republic is not isolated and Australian and Czech police are now working to trace what they believe could be an extensive network of animal smugglers. Ruth Fraňková has the story:

Photo: Author
In the Czech Republic animals reportedly come third on the list of smuggled goods after drugs and weapons. Last year, the authorities confiscated altogether 151 animals, mainly tortoises, songbirds and parrots. Jitka Kufnerová from the Czech Environmental Inspection Agency says the Australian geckos were probably smuggled by individuals, but she doesn’t rule out the possibility that a larger network was involved. However, she says, this is very hard to prove:

“Animal smuggling is organised differently from other illegal activities. There is no stable network. It’s just a network of people who know each other which gets together in individual cases. They know who to contact, who to sell to. But they are not in close working contact throughout most of the year.”

For many years the Czech Republic was a transfer country in international illegal animal trade. However, with people getting richer, and more interested in acquiring an exotic pet it has increasingly become a target country. So what can be done to prevent animal smuggling? Jitka Kufnerová again:

“We do regular checks of shipments, we check individual passengers and their luggage at Prague’s Ruzyně airport. In connection with CITES we have some internal Czech rules that allow us to monitor breeding facilities and carry out inspections at reptile and parrot markets. We try to curb the illegal trade as much as possible.

How successful do you think you are? Do you have any indication as to what proportion of the smuggled animals you manage to reveal?

“It’s always difficult to say. How can you estimate something you have never seen? Maybe one indicator could be an interview with an offender, who admitted that we had only uncovered one of ten shipments, so maybe one tenth. But, this is just a rough estimation and there are no exact numbers.”

Is it true that the Czech Republic is one of the top countries as far as animal smuggling is concerned?

“That’s what the figures say. This may be because Czech people were always very interested in owning exotic species such as reptiles and parrots and they have shown themselves to be very good at breeding them. Some breeders simply can’t resist the temptation to get the rarest species and they will do anything they have to to get them.”

The most notorious case of smuggling dates back to 2004, when two Czechs were caught stealing orchids in New Zealand. Shockingly, one was the dean of the Medical Faculty at Olomouc University, who was caught with 115 orchids in his backpack, the other, an employee of the Czech Environmental Inspection Agency, had fifteen. They were lucky to get away with only a fine. If the gecko smugglers are ever caught, they could face up to ten years in prison.