Cops have busted an international wildlife trafficking outfit that sold rare and vulnerable animals from Europe – including pythons and tortoises – to mega-rich clients in North Africa.
According to local media, the police have arrested 10 people, who have not been named, after discovering 200 exotic and endangered animals in an unnamed pet shop in the town of Fuengirola and a private house in the city of Ronda, both in the province of Malaga in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia.
The operation, coordinated with Europol and the Portuguese, Slovakian and Moroccan authorities, began when a resident reported the alleged gang to the animal organisation SEO Birdlife, according to the Spanish Civil Guard.
It is believed that the suspected wildlife smugglers obtained the animals in Europe and sold them on to mostly rich clients in Morocco and North Africa.
The Nature Protection Service (Seprona), a Civil Guard unit, said that the wealthy clients “wanted to own something that others do not have, to feel special”.
According to reports, most of the seized animals were parrot and macaw species although the authorities found a Burmese python (Python bivittatus), an African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) and a Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda), considered ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The criminal gang was reportedly led by four people and one unnamed suspect, who has a criminal record for smuggling, is believed to be the person responsible for acquiring the animals in European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Germany and Slovakia.
Reports also said that the organisation had a vet working for them who falsified documentation.
A Moroccan citizen living in the Spanish autonomous city of Melilla is believed to have been responsible for trafficking the animals to North Africa.
The footage shows officers with some of the seized animals. It is unclear if some of the animals were dead when they were seized.
The investigation into the alleged organisation is ongoing. It is unclear what will happen to the seized animals.