Stop the Illegal Trade of Protected Species

4 August 2015
Stop-comertului-ilegal-Foto

Stop the Illegal Trade of Protected Species it’s not only the title of an article, it is also the name of a Romanian NGO, at work since the fall of 2014.

In numerous countries of the world, the illegal trade of protected species is monitored by the public authorities or dedicated departments of public institutions. This type of activity is generally assimilated as seriousness, as implications and as generated income to other more notorious illegal trades such as weapons, drugs or stolen art. In Romania, due to the limited funds and personnel, this activity is performed only occasionally, following specific complaints filed by members of the public. As stated by a commissioner of the National Environmental Guard, The Romanian legislation does not allow the commissioners to act but only to react to claims. Unlike Italy, for instance, who has a special appointed environmental civil servant actively monitoring the online market in order to identify activities of illegal trade of protected species, Romania does not perform any official activities in this direction.

As many other beautiful initiatives, the NGO, called SCISP (brief from Stop Comertului Ilegal cu Specii Protejate) was formed on Facebook and it is made of biologists, ecologists, experienced reptile breeders as well as greenhorn nature fans, all very much aware of the importance of preserving wild biodiversity besides being aware of the Romanian institutions’ limitation in resources and capacity.

The representative of the NGO, Oriana Hurdugan, explained to us how a person trading illegally protected species ends up with criminal charges being investigated by the Environmental Guard and the Police.

Our modus operandi is the following: some of our volunteers are scanning based on key words the ads placed by members of the public on the specialized advertisement websites, they save electronic copies of the ads and post them on our Facebook group. There, according to the species targeted by the ad and according to the geographical location of the ad placer, one of our volunteers is contacting the seller and assesses the situation. Questions are asked in order to establish the good faith of the person selling the protected animal and to see at what extent that person is aware of the protected status of the species, Also the questions are meant to reveal the specimen’s origin (captured in the wild, found, bought, received as gift), the time the animal has spent in captivity, its age and the reason the animal is sold. The seller is informed on the fact that he/she is in possession of an animal protected by the Romanian and international law as well as on the fact that, by attempting to sell that animal, he/she faces criminal charges punishable with criminal fine from 2,300 to 9,000 EUR and/or prison from 3 months to a year. At all occasions we recommend the seller to release the animal, if no proper habitat is in view one of our volunteers making the trip in order to take the animal in custody for release.

The spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera)

The spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera)

“There were also cases when the animal’s health did not allowed its immediate release (due to improper living conditions for a long time – most of the cases that being caused by ignorance and in some cases, by sheer negligence). In those cases our volunteers fully rehabilitated the animals on their own care and expenses until release in the wild (medical costs, special diets and specific supplements). In cases where the owners were non cooperative (some becoming even violent or menacing) as well as in cases where the ad placers were knowingly and willingly collecting animals from the wild in order to sell them in Romania or abroad (poachers), our volunteers notify the Environmental Guard and the County Police Inspectorate having jurisdiction over the county in which the add was placed, and supplies all gathered evidence and records supporting a criminal prosecution for poaching.

What problems do you encounter during such actions?

We face a severe lack of information of the population regarding protected reptile and bird species living close to their settlements (generating purposely destroyed reptile hibernacula, predatory bird chicks taken from the nests, turtles taken from the ponds or from the field according to a ‘finders-keepers’ logic and reasons such as ‘I got it for the kids to play with, but that’s ok, there’s so many of them out there, it won’t make a difference). We also face the helplessness of the public authorities (in some cases even their ignorance), including with the civil servants of the Environmental Guard. This institution lacks the necessary capacity (in terms of available man hours, financial resources and so on and so forth) to get involved in proactive actions – such as monitoring the illegal online trade – as their counter parts in other European countries do. When it comes to the protected animal species sellers – the SCISP faces that issue on daily basis and it fights it by patiently informing each and every one of them.

Sometimes the volunteers have to explain the status of protection for the animals, what the protected species looks like and what laws protect it. There was even a case when the Cluj County Environmental Guard was notified for a European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) placed for sale online, the notification always bearing the legal grounds for it. The reply came from a commissioner of the Guard specifying that the species is not protected by any law and that trade activity is not illegal. We filed a new complaint and a notification of that reply to the Bucharest headquarters of the Guard. The entire procedure took about a month, and the commissioner was properly sanctioned. Now all the National Guard is aware of the protection status of the European pond turtle.”

European pond turtle  (Emys orbicularis)

European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis)

How many cases did you solved so far?

“Until now 151 ads were identified, most of them were processed by the NGO volunteers contacting the seller and trying to have them to release the animal. Nevertheless out of the poaching suspicions, only roughly a quarter of the cases were notified to the authorities for prosecution, due to the fact that most of them were having insufficient identification data for the seller.”

What are the next steps of the NGO?

Among others, an important and large impact target is to implement several large information actions in schools and high schools, making children aware of the protected species they can encounter in their immediate vicinity, in the fields and ponds around their village or town. We want to educate them on the animal needs as well as on the meaning of crime against nature by capturing or detaining a protected species.

Congratulations for your initiative and we hope that following your actions, people will become increasingly aware of the danger they face and will turn to protecting the animals not selling them for profit.

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