The volume of illegal trade in rare animals and plants is the world’s second after drugs. Russia, with its vast territory and favorable geographical location, has been a major player in the rare species market for decades, acting as an exporter, importer and a transit country. And this is happening irrespective of the fact that Russia signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora on July 1st 1975.
Using wild animals for cooking or profit smacks of selfishness and cynicism. Millions of rare animals are subjected to anguish and thousands perish in transit, being exposed to brutal treatment to satisfy the insatiable human craving for fashion or pleasure. The rarer the animal, the more it is wanted or valued by collectors.
According to experts from the World Wildlife Fund, thousands of rare animals are smuggled across the Russian borders every year. Sellers and buyers alike aren’t even stopped by the prospect of finding themselves in jail or contracting a disease. Unfortunately, the Russian legislation is too lenient to effectively deal with animal smugglers. For today, Russia has no commonly honored law which would enable the authorities to sue individuals for the smuggling or illegal trade in animals. There is no legislation which would enable law enforcers to confiscate the animals if they are taken across the border illegally. After successfully clearing customs, the imported species are sold or bought at liberty, and illegal trading in wild or exotic animals is flourishing online, uncontrolled. Customers can order any species – an Amur tiger, a snow leopard, or rare predator birds.
Tourists hardly ever engage in smuggling. In most cases, this sector of the market belongs to well-coordinated criminal groups which are practically invincible, with many government officials being their clients. Their clientele includes customs officers, representatives of administrative and research organizations who issue entry and exit papers for the animals, and police employees who turn a blind eye to the trade in endangered species.
Animals are smuggled in and out of Russia in different ways. Some are delivered by air from South East Asia, South America and Africa. Some are transported by train and car across Poland and Central Asia, some travel by sea via St.Petersburg.
Transportation conditions for the smuggled animals are harsh beyond imagination. The smugglers hide their ‘goods’ in camouflaged containers, thermoses or suitcases with false bottoms. There are 60 to 100 species in each batch, suffering from dehydration, anomalous temperature or malnutrition. 50 to 70 percent perish in transit. Often, the whole consignment dies. But the smugglers remain undaunted: rare species are so valuable that even if only one makes it to the destination, it will recoup for the whole batch. Catchers, carriers and sellers all inflict irreparable damage on nature.
Even if confiscated by customs officers, the animals continue to suffer. They need proper maintenance and living conditions, which is not easy to provide in a foreign environment. Falcons can be let out into the wild after a 20-day quarantine. As regards exotic, heat-loving species, they require special nurseries which hardly exist in Russia.
As exotic animals are becoming more and more fashionable, they are easily available at Moscow’s Pet Market. Supply is demand-driven, and this demand comes from anyone but animal lovers. For this reason, a bill on the protection of wild animals and rare plants, currently under discussion in Russia, will do a lot to change the situation for the better. Audiofile.