Animal smugglers elude police

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