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Two pumas, a Bengal tiger and a white lion among exotic animals seized in Mexico police raid

Authorities in the state of Mexico arrested eight people in an operation that also uncovered infrastructure for the illegal extraction of gasoline, hydrocarbons and water

Daniel Alonso Viña
Mexico
A Bengal tiger rescued by agents in the State of Mexico.FGJEM

A white lion lying peacefully in the sun, an African tiger sleeping in the shade of its cage, a white fox prowling around the property… A raid by authorities in the State of Mexico has uncovered 47 live animals, seven stuffed exotic animals, and several clandestine outlets for huachicoleo, the illegal extraction of fuel for sale. Police have arrested eight people and the property has been secured until the fate of the animals is determined.

On entering the property, agents found 25 exotic animals. In addition to the white lion and the tiger, there were two pumas, a Bengal tiger, a deer, a gray fox, a coyote, an owl and several eagles among others, the state prosecutor’s office said in its report. Inside the property were seven stuffed animals. One of the photographs taken by the authorities shows a deer with its hind legs raised, as if it were in full flight from the stuffed fox behind it.

The initial investigation suggests that in order to finance this private zoo, the detainees dedicated themselves to the sale of stolen gasoline. The property contained everything necessary to carry out the illegal activity: a tank containing 14,000 liters of diesel, autobuses, machinery, pipes, motorcycles, and an installation connected to the subsoil that could possibly provide the means for the clandestine intake of hydrocarbons, as well as another that could be an illegal tap for extracting water, the prosecutor’s report stated.

Regulations on exotic animals in Mexico vary depending on the species. The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) considers that tigers cannot be considered pets, because they are predators and regulated under the General Law of Wildlife. Even so, Mexican law allows for the ownership of an exotic animal provided they are not an endangered species, such as the scarlet macaw or howler monkey. In order to keep such an animal, owners must have all the necessary paperwork and the animal should live in a dignified and respectful environment.

The authorities have released no details over the state of the animals found at the property during the raid. The images published by the prosecutor’s office show that the lions and tigers were apparently kept in suitable conditions, although they had not been let out of the enclosure where they were housed for some time. The law allows for the ownership of such animals but walking them in public is forbidden due to the potential danger to the general public. Acquiring exotic animals in Mexico has become considerably easier through social media.

In addition to the furthest corners of some flea markets, where prohibited animals have always been available, Facebook has a large market for exotic species. With just a few clicks, groups such as ones named “Sale of wild animals” or “exotic animals in Mexico City,” can be found, as EL PAÍS discovered in a recent report. These groups offer everything from jaguars — an endangered species — to hawks, Russian tortoises, and chameleons. In a matter of days, a buyer can have a rare owl delivered to the door of their house, and all without signing a single piece of paper.

Responsibility for the purchase of these types of exotic animal go beyond the seller. It also falls on those who illegally buy them, especially if it is a species in danger of extinction. A buyer can then be pursued for committing a crime as an “accomplice in international trafficking” of animal species prohibited by Mexican law, according to Semarnat. Even if an animal is acquired with the necessary paperwork in order, responsibility does not end there. If the animal does not receive the necessary care, owners face fines of up to 7.2 million pesos ($394,500). Possession of a protected species is punishable by up to nine years in prison.

What will happen to the animals recovered by the authorities remains unclear. It all depends on their origin. Semarnat will transfer some of them to facilities authorized to care for them, while the secretariat will attempt to return those native to Mexico to their natural habitat. According to Semarnat, the most commonly illegally traded animals in the country are the yellow-headed parakeet, the scarlet and green macaw, the yellow-breasted toucan, the spider monkey, and the howler monkey, among others.

In addition to being a country with a high demand for illegal pets, Mexico is also an important link in the chain of international animal trafficking. “It is one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity on the planet and has a privileged geographical location,” the authorities note. Mexico has fluid trade routes with several countries where exotic animals are in great demand, including the United States, Canada and China, as well as with those from where many illegally traded animals originate, such as Guatemala and other Latin American countries.

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