Human smuggling thrives due to lack of regulation

In the capital of Qatar, Doha, at the end of March, a conference of participants in the convention on international trade in representatives of endangered species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) was held. Experts from 178 countries, including Russia, gathered to take joint measures to prevent cases of illegal international trade in animals and plants. 

Trade in animals today is one of the most profitable types of shadow business. According to Interpol, this type of activity in the world ranks second in terms of money turnover after drug trafficking – more than 6 billion dollars a year. 

In July last year, customs officers found a large wooden box in the vestibule of the St. Petersburg-Sevastopol train. Inside was a ten-month-old African lion. The owner was in the next carriage. He did not have a single document on the predator. Interestingly, the smuggler convinced the guides that it was “just a big dog.” 

Predators are taken out of Russia not only by rail. So, a few months ago, a three-year-old lioness Naomi and a five-month-old Ussuri tiger cub Radzha – now the inhabitants of the Tula zoo – almost ended up in Belarus. A car with animals tried to slip through the border. The driver of the car even had veterinary passports for cats, but there was no special permission to export rare pets. 

Aleksey Vaysman has been dealing with the problem of animal smuggling for more than 15 years. He is coordinator of the TRAFFIC wildlife trade research program. This is a joint project of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The task of TRAFFIC is to monitor the trade in wild animals and plants. Alexey knows exactly which “product” is in the greatest demand in Russia and abroad. It turns out that thousands of rare animals are transported across the borders of the Russian Federation every year. Their capture occurs, as a rule, in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. 

Parrots, reptiles and primates are brought to Russia, and rare falcons (gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, saker falcons), listed in the Red Book, are exported. These birds are highly valued in the Arab East. There they are used in traditional falconry. The price of one individual can reach several hundred thousand dollars. 

For example, in September 2009, an attempt to illegally transport eight rare peregrine falcons across the border was stopped at the customs at Domodedovo. As it was established, the birds were being prepared for shipment to Doha. They were placed between ice bottles in two sports bags; the condition of the falcons was terrible. The customs officers handed over the birds to the Center for the Rescue of Wild Animals near Moscow. After a 20-day quarantine, the falcons were released. These birds were lucky, but the rest, which could not be found, were not very lucky: they are drugged, wrapped with tape, their mouths and eyes are sewn up. It is clear that there can be no talk of any food and water. Add to this the strongest stress – and we get a colossal mortality. 

Customs officers explain why smugglers are not afraid to lose some of the “goods”: they pay such money for rare species that even if only one copy survives, it will pay for the entire batch. Catchers, carriers, sellers – they all cause irreparable damage to nature. 

Thirst for profit intruders leads to the extinction of rare species. 

“Unfortunately, the softness of our legislation does not allow us to adequately deal with animal smuggling. In Russia, there is no separate article that would talk about it, ”says Alexander Karelin, state inspector of the Federal Customs Service. 

He explains that representatives of the fauna are equated with ordinary goods. You can start a criminal case only under Article 188 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Smuggling”, if it is proved that the cost of “live cargo” exceeds 250 thousand rubles. 

“As a rule, the cost of the “goods” does not exceed this amount, so smugglers get off with relatively small administrative fines of 20-30 thousand rubles for non-declaration and cruelty to animals,” he says. 

But how to determine how much an animal can cost? This is not a car for which there is a specific price. 

Alexey Vaysman explained how an instance is evaluated. According to him, the Federal Customs Service is applying to the World Wildlife Fund with a request to determine the value of the animal. The problem is that there are no established legal prices for rare species, and the figure is given on the basis of monitoring the “black market” and the Internet. 

“The lawyer of the defendant provides in court his certificates and checks in an exotic language that the animal is worth only a few dollars. And already the court decides who to believe – us or some piece of paper from Gabon or Cameroon. Practice shows that the court often trusts lawyers,” says Weissman. 

According to representatives of the Wildlife Fund, it is quite possible to correct this situation. In article 188 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, “smuggling” should be prescribed in a separate line as a punishment for the illegal transportation of animals, as is done in the case of drugs and weapons. Tougher punishment is sought not only by the Wildlife Fund, but also by Rosprirodnadzor.

Detecting and confiscating “live smuggling” is still half the trouble, after that the animals need to be kept somewhere. It is easier for falcons to find shelter, because after 20-30 days they can already be released into their natural habitat. With exotic, heat-loving species, it is more difficult. In Russia, there are practically no specialized state nurseries for overexposure of animals. 

“We are spinning as best we can. Nowhere to put the confiscated animals. Through Rosprirodnadzor we find some private nurseries, sometimes zoos meet halfway, ”explains Alexander Karelin, state inspector of the Federal Customs Service. 

Officials, conservationists and the Federal Customs Service agree that in Russia there is no control over the internal circulation of animals, there is no legislation regulating the trade in non-native species listed in CITES. There is simply no law in the country according to which animals can be confiscated after they cross the border. If you managed to slip through customs, then imported copies can be freely sold and bought. At the same time, sellers of “live goods” feel absolutely unpunished.

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