Tortoise-smuggling causes headaches at Prague Zoo

Young tortoise, photo: CTK

The fifteen of July was a lucky day for 670 tortoises which were seized from an animal dealer in the south-east of the Czech Republic. An investigation has begun into a possible large-scale illegal trade in endangered species. The tortoises in question, that are worth a million crowns and were born and raised in captivity, have now been taken to zoos in Brno and Prague. Petr Velensky, a reptile specialist in Prague's zoo, showed Radio Prague's Jarka Halkova 340 of the tortoises that they are currently taking care of at the zoo.

Young tortoise,  photo: CTK
"These tortoises came to the zoo in various states of health. The majority is quite well. They are healthy and eat perfectly. But there is about 10 percent which are in very poor condition, in fact with blind eyes. These illnesses are a consequence of bad maintenance of these animals."

In the Czech Republic animals come third in the list of smuggled goods after drugs and weapons, and tortoises are the most frequent victims of this illegal traffic.

"Smuggled animals are cheaper than animals legally bred in captivity. Southern European animals are top of the list. The majority of smuggled animals come from Greece or Yugoslavia. I think that a part of them is going to another countries in Europe. Maybe even to Japan. Japanese are famous collectors of pets and animals."

The situation in taking care of animals seized from smugglers should improve within the next two years. Petr Velensky says there are plans for a centre where endangered animals once seized by custom officers could stay for some time.

Elephant tortoise,  photo: CTK
"There is a huge number of these animals. Maybe hundreds to thousands a year. Not only our zoo but also other zoos in the Czech Republic must build centres like this, which will enable us to give these animals perfect healthcare and perfect conditions."

What should you do if you find out that your tortoise at home might have been smuggled?

"Every animal which is under protection must have his own document of identification. If you don't have it you must go to your local environmental office and say "Well I have an illegal tortoise." You will have to pay a fine because you did some illegal practice. Then you will obtain this licence. It is like ownership of a gun."