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Lucrative market for exotic pets worth the smuggling risk

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For 300,000 to 400,000 yen, pet dealers in Japan will sell you a Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang) -- a nocturnal, tree-climbing primate native to Southeast Asia. An Asian Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinerea) can set you back as much as 700,000 yen. Indian Star Tortoises (Geochelone elegans) run 25,000 to 30,000 yen. And a Hercules stag beetle from Central or South America might go for 50,000 to 60,000 yen.

On the other end of the spectrum, hermit crabs sell in pet shops for as little as 100 to 500 yen each. But their annual turnover is said to exceed three tons, and the majority sold here are smuggled in from abroad.

Writing in Cyzo (November), Mai Endo talks to Tsuyoshi Shirawa, author of the 2007 work "Dobutsu no Nedan" (The Price of Animals, Locomotion Publishing), about the trade in exotic pets that is exploiting loopholes in CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (also known as the Washington Convention).

The convention's Appendix I covers giant pandas, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, rhinos and other endangered species, about 900 in all, and bans their international trade for commercial purposes.

The main problem lies in the additional 32,500 species in Appendix II, which are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but for which some form of strict regulation is desirable.

Most of the small primates, turtles and others being smuggled into Japan follow the same pattern. A catcher snares the animal and sells it to a broker, who takes his cut when he passes it on to a smuggler.

"These are individuals, not businesses," says Shirawa. "Typically they bring them in their carry-on hand baggage."

Once arriving at the airport, they have to get the critters past a customs inspector. Falsifying a customs form or failing to report makes the violator subject to arrest.

"But if you state openly on the customs form, 'I've got an otter,' you won't be arrested," says Shirawa. "You'll be let off with a warning and the animal will be confiscated."

Some smugglers have ways of getting past customs by entering an animal's name on the declaration in an ambiguous way.

"It's almost impossible for customs officials, who are busy checking for contraband like drugs and firearms, to be familiar with the names of all protected species," Shirawa explains.

Violators of Japan's Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora risk imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to 1 million yen. But once the creatures in Appendix II do make it into the country, no restrictions on sales apply. In other words, it's a "home-free" situation for the sellers.

To simplify things, Shirawa thinks ownership of all species named in Appendix I should be prohibited outright without approval from the Environment Ministry.

"As for Appendix II, registration should be required," he says.

Unfortunately there aren't enough officials available to get a handle on the situation. In all of 2008, officials at Narita Airport prosecuted only 341 cases, which, considering the scale of the market, is almost certainly a mere drop in the bucket.

© Japan Today

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11 Comments
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A lot of lizards,birds,snakes and insects get pilfered from australia by Japanese every year.A few smugglers get caught but it must be the tip of the iceberg.I know there is a petshop in Osaka that has been busted in the past for selling endangered animals that were smuggled in and it is still there doing business.

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I don't understand the nerds who think keeping one of these things at home is cool -- they're not affectionate or intelligent. Mostly they just sleep a lot, blink their eyes occasionally and swallow insects (or whatever). Instead of trying to operate my own private zoo I'd much rather have the companionship of a friendly cocker spaniel, or at least a pet king cobra to protect my house from burglars.

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exo creatures are not warranted. WanWan is the best pet, as long as you do not dress it and put it in a wanwan kuruma

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The trade is sickening and on a par with the international trade and exploitation of women. Unscrupulous brokers take advantage of the weak and helpless to make a lot of money. The customer is part of the problem.

Tighten up those laws immediately, and enforce them please.

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how can these people disguise animals in a customs form? do they declare them as dependents? haha

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I always wondered about all those YouTube videos from Japan, where they're having slow lorises in their houses (eg. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHqVatZP5mc). The article explains a lot... dang.

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This sort of thing is really upsetting. Over the years, a number of Japanese have been arrested in Australia, trying to smuggle out Australian native animals, etc. I have no sympathy for such people. When and wherever arrested, they should be locked up for life.

Furthermore, such animals are ill-suited to living in other countries. This is particularly apparent when the owners decide that the animal is no longer cute, and release it into the local environment. Unfortunately, however, because laws in Japan are so weak with regard to such issues, the importation of exotic animals into the is country represents an ecological disaster just waiting to happen.

Finally, if you want a pet, and are willing to see it through to the end, there is probably nothing better than a dog.

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Not to mention the environmental havoc wreaked by the introduction of foreign species, especially insects. Potentially lethal red-back spiders in Japan are now a real problem. So exterminate them? Highly unlikely ... I can't remember the figures, but this is now a serious problem everywhere and a huge threat to developed countries in particular.

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This sounds like a 'how to' manunal on how to smuggle and sell exotic animals. The worst part is that there are actually people who buy them.

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One of the problems is that customs inspectors here don't check bags often. I have NEVER had any of my bags inspected coming into Japan.

Sadly, probably 9 out of every 10 poor animals smuggled in will die in the process or shortly after. Australian cockatoos are smuggled in toilet rolls. Hopefully Japanese Customs will - at some time in the future - crack down on these inhumane scum.

I don't understand the nerds who think keeping one of these things at home is cool -- they're not affectionate or intelligent.

Very true Beelzebub. Some people seem to think by having an unusual/rare or exotic "pet" will make them seem more interesting to others. Most of these people are probably losers.

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exotic pets are useful for making new friends. always get a "kawaii" and a follow-up chat.....

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