By Peter Stevenson
CYPRUS has been implicated in a wildlife crime syndicate along with Russia, Singapore and Thailand.
According to SOS, Save our Species, a wildlife trader arrested in Indonesia last week was a specialist in smuggling life animals, including baby primates and komodo dragons.
Police who arrested the trader confiscated four endangered Javan gibbons, four baby siamangs, and two palm cockatoos. The alleged trader is connected to illegal wildlife trafficking rings in Russia, Singapore, Thailand, and Cyprus, according to authorities there.
The illegal trading of exotic animals has been on the Cyprus-based animal welfare group ARC/Kivotos’ agenda for some time now and they had suggested to former Agriculture Minister Sophocles Aletraris and current minister Nicos Kouyialis to issue a decree obliging people to declare whatever exotic animals they may have on the island.
“Even the EU is very lax on these issues and no clear legislation exists on the movement of exotic animals within its member states. Dutch authorities have found a way around this too by ‘baptising’ any exotic animals that arrive in Holland as Dutch therefore allowing them to move freely around Europe,” said the head of ARC/Kivotos, Kyriacos Kyriacou.
EU member states have recently been trying to put a list together – a positive list – of those animals that can be imported or transported around Europe following the break out of animal related diseases.
“Greece, Belgium, Holland and Malta suggested the creation of a positive list but unfortunately that has stalled because Cyprus has tried to propose the opposite, a negative list [which lists banned animals],” Kyriacou said.
He said there are a number of places operating as ‘zoos’ that keep exotic animals in inhumane conditions and the government is doing nothing about it.
“We have complained to the minister, we have complained to the president himself but unfortunately nothing is being done and veterinary services are even protecting them in some cases,” he said.
The veterinary services says it has prepared a legal framework according to EU regulations to regulate the trade/ownership of pets but this has hit a stumbling block due to the financial crisis.
“The framework will require specialist knowledge of various animals, knowledge that civil servants unfortunately do not possess and means they will require specialised training in the subject. As you can imagine training of that nature requires money, and for the time being it is money we do not have,” said acting head of the veterinary services Christodoulos Pipis.
Kyriacou agreed that civil servants working at ports and airports would require special training to tell the difference between certain exotic breeds of animals and what conditions they need to be kept in.
While they cannot implement EU regulations, the veterinary services say they are further hampered by not being able to apply the regulations they did have in place before Cyprus joined the EU as they contravene EU rules on the freedom of movement of animals.
Regarding protected species Pipis explained that it was not the responsibility of the veterinary services but that of the country such an animal is coming from.
Three years ago, ARC/Kivotos helped move a three-year-old Vervet monkey to an exotic animal sanctuary in Amsterdam, after it started displaying aggressive behaviour. The pet’s owner saw the monkey in a Paphos pet shop and caved in to pressure by her children who were keen to adopt it as a pet. The pet shop charged about €2,000 for the pet, but offered no advice on how to care for the animal. Vervet monkeys live for about 20 years in captivity.
Born Free EU’s zoo report for 2011 referred to one animal park that fell short in terms of animal welfare. It stated that there was “an inappropriate mix of species” and gave the example of the small enclosure which housed both a crested porcupine and a raccoon which are unable to “express normal behaviours”.
The Born Free report acknowledged that numerous animals, including the raccoon and porcupine, had been moved to other enclosures but observed the living conditions were no different.