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Animal underworld: Exotic pets seized from mobsters are being given a second chance

Around 400 exotic animals are rescued every year by Italy’s police and forest guard.

A PYTHON, A troop of monkeys and a large reptile have all been given a second chance after being confiscated from mobsters, drug dealers and other criminals in Italy.

The animals’ new home is a rescue centre in Rome, alongside other animals that have been rescued by Italian police and the forest guard rescue.

The sanctuary, called Our Animal Kingdom, is situated inside the Appia Antica park.

It’s home to exotic turtles, deer, boars, parrots, vultures, eagles and even a group of lemurs.

Every year, around 400 exotic animals are rescued by Italy’s police and forest guard.

shutterstock_142074685 Shutterstock / NagyDodo Shutterstock / NagyDodo / NagyDodo

Animal kingdom

The large lizard, a caiman, was rescued from the back garden of a drug dealer in Rome, who kept him in a small greenhouse.

shutterstock_333453107 Small caiman crocodile in the Amazonian Basin In Ecuador. Shutterstock / Ammit Jack Shutterstock / Ammit Jack / Ammit Jack

Lively, long-haired gibbons Tai and Martedi, who swing from ropes as they cross their pen, hail from Thailand and were confiscated separately from women who claimed they had simply found the monkeys on the streets of Italy and taken them home.

Head of the centre, Umberto Cara explained that it’s hard to find space for the animals at zoos.

“Given my passion for wild animals, I began collaborating with the security forces about 10 years ago to save them,” he said.

shutterstock_251840224 Shutterstock / Ery Azmeer Shutterstock / Ery Azmeer / Ery Azmeer

Cara works as a vet for domestic pets to fund the medical care, food and shelter for the exotic animals.

Returning the animals to their original countries is complicated and releasing them into the wild in Italy would disrupt the existing eco-system, so the animals remain in the centre.

Wildlife crime

Some of the animals are rescued by customs officers in Italy’s airports and ports, hubs in which smugglers are also regularly caught with valuable animal parts or skins stowed in false suitcase bottoms or stashed inside everyday objects.

Wildlife and nature crime, which includes the trafficking of elephant tusks, rhino horns, tiger skins or rare woods, is the fourth most profitable crime business worldwide after weapons, drugs and human smuggling.

Operation Cobra 3 Grant Miller, CITES lead at Border Force, holding animal pelt during a briefing on Operation Cobra 3 - an operation to tackle illegally traded endangered species. Yui Mok / PA Wire Yui Mok / PA Wire / PA Wire

More than cocaine and gold

Raffaele Manicone is the head of the local branch of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

He says wildlife and nature crime is a common source of early income for big African and South American crime groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. The earning from this trade is then reinvested into other illegal businesses.

Ivory is still prized by Southeast Asian communities, as is rhino horn, which when ground is considered a sort of “cure-all” medicine, particularly in Vietnam.

The price of a rhino horn is estimated to cost up to €53,515 a kilo.

“This year we seized five rhino horns at Milan airport. It is the most precious natural asset,” Manicone said. The horns were hidden inside cheap wooden statues.

One horn alone can weigh up to seven kilograms. They are worth more than cocaine, more than gold.

South Africa Rhino Refuge A baby rhino stands with its dehorned mother in their enclosure at a rhino orphanage in South Africa. Denis Farrell / AP/Press Association Images Denis Farrell / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

Despite the efforts of border police and CITES’ anti-poacher army, the global trafficking of animals, plants or parts is worth some $30 billion a year – and is a fate from which the animals at Our Animal Kingdom are lucky to have escaped.

- © AFP, 2016

Read: Chinese medicines are packed with endangered animal DNA

Read: Poachers stopped with half a tonne of tortoises and snakes

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