A three-toed sloth native to South America died after smugglers flung it over a precipice in Morne Diablo, on Tuesday after smugglers were tipped off that the police were hot on their trail.
Police received information around midday that the sloth, 18 parrots, a toucan, a yellow-foot tortoise, five baby Capuchin monkeys and a baby wild hog, were being offloaded from a boat at Morne Diablo beach.
It is believed that the animals were smuggled from Venezuela.
Insp Ablacksingh, Sgt Gokool, Ag Cpl Singh and PC Ramdath intercepted at least three vehicles exiting the road leading to the beach. However, the animals were not found. The officers went to the beach where they received information which led them to Quarry Road.
The officers found the animals about ten feet down the precipice. The birds and the hog were in cages, the tortoise in a box and the sloth in a crocus bag.
The officers took the animals to the Penal Police Station where they were subsequently handed over to senior game warden Steve Seepersad and other employees of the Forestry Division.
Seepersad appealed to members of the public to desist from smuggling the animals into the country.
“It is wrong. It is illegal. It is inhumane and they should refrain from doing that (smuggling them into the country) because there are serious health risks involved,” said Seepersad.
He said more than ten years ago the Government banned the importation of animals and animal products into the country.
He said of all the animals only the hog was native to T&T. Seepersad said on the black market the animals could range from $500 to $3,000 each.
However, he reminded the public that the amendment to the Conservation of Wild Life Act came into effect on January 1, so a person held with a protected animal faces a maximum fine of $10,000 for each animal.
“In this case, if the people were caught they could face $270,000 in fines,” Seepersad said.
He said he has been receiving calls from people who want to turn in protected animals they have in their possession.
He again appealed to members of the public who have or know of people with protected animals to contact the Forestry Division.
Romane Macfarlane, a wildlife biologist, expressed concerned that the animals pose a serious health risk to the population.
“Monkeys pass on a number of zoonotic diseases to humans under the right circumstances. These diseases include tuberculosis, yellow fever, Hepatitis B, enteric pathogens and shigellosis. In Trinidad, monkeys have infected entire families.”
He said birds also carry various diseases.
“We are putting our poultry industry at risk and that is a very important industry in our economy. I hope that it does not take a disease to hit here for people to realise the gravity of the situation.”
Seepersad said the animals would be handed over to officials from the Emperor Valley Zoo to be tested for diseases and to receive medical care, if necessary.
- by Sascha Wilson