15 June 2019

East Africa: More Than 4,400 Reptiles Rescued From Traffickers

A Global operation against the illicit trade in reptiles has rescued more than 4,400 live animals and led to the arrest of 12 suspected wildlife traffickers.

According to Interpol, Operation Blizzard found six Kenyan sand boas in air cargo in the US, and two pythons in Western Australia between April and May.

The Kenyan sand boas -- said to be popular as pets due to ease of care, small size and docility -- were discovered by Customs officials. Interpol and Europol co-ordinated the operation, targeting aircraft passengers, commercial cargo, pet shops and those legally allowed to keep reptiles to identify illegal activities.

Europol's head of Economic and Property Crime Unit Pedro Felício said the threat of environmental crime remains high.

"We now have thousands of reptiles, worth millions of euros, being seized every year by EU law enforcement agencies with the support of Europol," he said

Europol said Operation Blizzard seized 4,419 live animals, including 2,703 turtles and tortoises, 512 lizards and geckos, 20 crocodiles and alligators along with 152 handbags, wallets, watchstraps, medicines and taxidermies derived from reptiles.

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With more than 180 suspects identified, prosecutions are anticipated as investigations continue; six arrests were made in Italy and another six in Spain.

Countries that took part in Operation Blizzard include South Africa, the US, Australia, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.

The level of reptile protection is low as only eight per cent of about 10,000 species are on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species list.

The exotic reptile trade has grown as animals are exported to the US and EU as pets. Some are coveted for their skins used to make high-end shoes, handbags, wallets and belts.

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