The Bulgarian border officials found last Christmas and New Year quite stressful, since they busted several cases of illegal trafficking of protected animal species, a shipment of over 200 parrots and another one with nearly 120 kg of eels among those. There have been several other smuggling attempts through 2012 too. These came to confirm the fact that Bulgaria was placed on the route of a major corridor for animal and plant trafficking between Europe, Asia and Africa. All species concerned are protected by the CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is not easy to cease that kind of smuggling activities, since the officers involved need special training. The level of competence and the coordination between the judicial and the other institutions also have to be very good. That was why the environmental ministry organized through the summer a whole series of workshops and trainings across the country, aimed at those institutions and the environmental NGOs that are a priceless assistant of the authorities in this joint battle.
“We don’t find it necessary to improve the current Bulgarian legislation in this area, since it responds to the EU directives and the CITES convention,” Deputy Minister of Environment Evdokia Maneva voiced to journalists. “We try to improve the cooperation between the different institutions involved, in order for protected species to be better guarded. It still happens sometimes that an animal is killed or the perpetrators slip away.”
The penalties provided in the law are quite serious – up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to EUR 10,000 for persons / EUR 15,000 for companies. A criminal that tried to smuggle out two eagles in 2010 was recently imprisoned for some 3 years. Another person has been sentenced for his attempt to smuggle in from Lebanon 108 African Grey Parrots again in 2010.
The authorities more and more often come upon another “modern” method of abuse with wild animals. Rich people in this country try to breed big predators in their yards, although this is banned by the law. For instance, the case with the three tigers in the yard of the Dangov brothers, or the over 2 m long snake found in the office of the Erinini brothers. A small menagerie of a rare turtle species was discovered in the house of the Roma manufacturer of illegal alcohol, known as Tsar Kiro.
“The three tigers of the Dangov brothers and the other lions confiscated were all sent into a rescue center in Africa – a place that is suitable for them as a climate and conditions,” Mr. Valeri Georgiev, state expert with the National Service for Protection of Nature at the Ministry of Environment says. “We try to find the best conditions for the animals after their confiscation. The 32 turtles, taken away from Kiril Rashkov, aka Tsar Kiro, were later released in a suitable environment, after spending some time at the Turtle Center in the village of Banya, where they were healed.”
This year’s practice has found a gap in the harmonization of the legislation in the area of environment and veterinary activities. It turned out that the authorities didn’t have the right to confiscate rare species in case of internal trade with those. This became the reason for the poor destiny of a large quantity of captured eels.
“All the eels died due to a gap in the veterinary law,” Mr. Georgiev explains. “The ministry couldn’t take effective measures, because it was a question of internal trade. The eels weren’t accommodated properly and they died in the containers they were found into. Yes, the legislation can be improved, but not exactly the one for environmental protection.”
Data of Traffic International reveals the turnover in the area of illegal trade with protected species and it is ranked third after arms and drug trafficking. Bulgarian law says that 487 animal and 572 plant species are protected ones. Falcon and falcon eagles are the most abused birds, regarding trafficking, since those are used for hunting. Wild birds such as nightingales for instance are also threatened, because people buy them for pets. However, their life in cage is usually very short, since they cannot live if they are not free, experts say. Hunting trophies from protected species are another subject of trafficking in Bulgaria.
English version: Zhivko Stanchev