Major investigation into trafficking of protected species

Major investigation into trafficking of protected species

IN a major operation over the past four months, The Guardia Civil has arrested or put under investigation, 203 people for illegal trafficking of protected species and for crimes related to non-compliance or falsifying documents.

The operation, named ‘Operation Celacanto,’ involved more than 2,000 inspections of establishments selling animals, wholesalers, private collectors, antique shops, as well as coordinated investigations at ports and airports.

The investigations, which at various stages involved officers from Europol and Interpol, had three aspects to it.

The first was regarding eels, which were being illegally exported as fry (known as angula in Spanish) to Asian countries, where they were fattened in farms before returning them to the European market for human consumption in the form of smoked, frozen or filleted eel.

The next phase involved the investigation of the trafficking of live reptiles. During this investigation, a total of 217 inspections were carried out, in which 628 specimens of live reptiles were seized and six people were arrested for crimes against flora and fauna or for falsification of documents.

It is worth highlighting the seizure at Barcelona-El Prat airport of 76 giant tortoise specimens from Aldabra (Seychelles) that were in a passenger’s luggage. This species is considered a protected species and given its rarity, seized specimens can reach an approximate market value of €114,000.

In addition, 113 specimens of critically endangered Madagascar star-tailed turtle, a very valuable species in terms of conservation, were seized, the total valuation for seizures of this species was more than €90,000.

In the provinces of Malaga, Almeria and Murcia, numerous seizures were made regarding the sale and illegal possession of the black turtle, a species included in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species.

The third phase was focused on the trafficking of ivory from African elephants.

Here it should be noted that whilst the trade has decreased in recent years, a part of this can be said to be due to the smaller number of these animals. It is believed that poachers are still killing 14,000 of these animals each year and scientists predict its extinction within 15-20 years.

During the operation, there were 1,669 seizures, including 543 pieces of ivory, valued at more than €400,000, in the form of both carved and raw tusks. Under international law, it is illegal to possess or trade in ivory unless it can be dated prior to 1947. To assess this, officers were trained in Carbon dating items.

Additionally, trophies were seized of endangered species such as the Great bustard, protected feline skins such as the ocelot or the boreal lynx, (some already made into fur coats), hawksbill turtle shells and three pieces of African rhinoceros horn whose price in the illegal market would reach € 60,000 per kg.

The raids also revealed a clandestine zoo in the province of Badajoz where they seized more than 100 specimens of various species such as the African porcupine or the crowned crane,

As a result of this stage of the investigation, arrests took place in the provinces of Malaga, Zamora, Valencia, Seville and Cordoba, as well as in Portugal.