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. Animal-smuggling bust nets 72 people in Brazil

The most commonly trafficked animals were birds, snakes, jaguars and monkeys. Many died while being transported.
by Staff Writers
Rio De Janeiro (AFP) March 11, 2009
Brazil's federal police have broken up a vast network of wild animal traffickers, arresting 72 people, authorities said Wednesday.

The network is alleged to have sold as many as 500,000 animals a year, including some endangered species, they said.

The operation, which involved 450 federal agents, was aimed at dismantling a network of traffickers working in nine states, from the Amazon to the far southern reaches of the country.

Suspects also are being sought in Switzerland, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

"Seventy-two people have already been arrested throughout the country and the police are still at work. In all, 102 arrest warrants have been issued," a spokesperson for the federal police in Rio said.

The arrested include hunters, smugglers, intermediaries and sellers of captured animals.

At least four police officers who took part in the sales, and officials at transport companies that enabled the clandestine movement of the animals, were arrested.

The most commonly trafficked animals were birds, snakes, jaguars and monkeys. Many died while being transported.

Under Brazilian law, hunting is forbidden throughout the country. So is keeping wild animals in captivity, except in rare cases.

The police had been closing in on poachers and traffickers, laying the groundwork for the arrest with an extensive intelligence gathering operation.

The police say their immediate goal is to reduce the profits and raise the risks run by hunters and smugglers.

At least 627 animal species are endangered in Brazil, three times the number 15 years ago, according to official statistics.

Brazil, along with Indonesia, is the world's most biologically diverse country, accounting for 10 percent of the Earth's mammals and 13 percent of its amphibians.

In all, Brazil has 530 species of mammals, 1,800 types of birds, 680 kinds of reptiles, 800 amphibian types and 3,000 species of fish.

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