6 People Arrested for Illegal Trafficking of Large Felids Between Spain and France

by Lorraine Williamson
illegal felid trafficking

On June 21, 2023, the Civil Guard, in collaboration with the OCLAESP of the French Gendarmerie, carried out the “Operation Reina 33,” resulting in the arrest of 6 individuals for alleged illegal trafficking of CITES species between Spain and France.

The arrested individuals are charged with offenses such as species trafficking, falsification of documents, smuggling, membership in a criminal group, and illegal possession of weapons.

Felids, which include species such as tigers, lions, and leopards, are large wild cats that are highly sought after due to their exotic appeal. Unfortunately, their illegal trade has become a lucrative business that threatens their populations in the wild.

The investigations began when it was discovered that various animals, including a silver fox, skunks, snakes, and meerkats, were being offered for sale through a popular social network without the necessary professional permits or documentation authorising the possession and sale of such animals.

These animals were presented with a false appearance of legality and were located on a property in the town of Sax (Alicante). After conducting a search and seizure at the site, it was discovered that there were several accommodations specifically set up to house specimens of wild fauna.

Further investigations revealed that a French citizen had travelled to Alicante on multiple occasions to acquire specimens of wild fauna, including a serval (Leptailurus serval), which was subsequently offered for sale for €3,800.

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Modus Operandi

The individuals arrested in Spain were involved in the acquisition and maintenance of animals at the facilities on the Alicante property until they were ready for sale. They would then advertise the animals on social networks in collaboration with the individuals arrested in France. The French citizens were responsible for transporting the specimens to France and subsequently selling them in various countries within the European Union, primarily France, Belgium, and Poland.

A coordinated effort resulted in the execution of eight searches and seizures at different residences and facilities in Spain and France, leading to the confiscation of specimens. Among the seized animals were six servals, two caracals, an ocelot, as well as two titi monkeys, three macaws, a rainbow lorikeet, two porcupines, a tortoise, and a cockatoo. All of these animals belong to species protected under the CITES convention, one of the most important international environmental treaties established to combat the threat that illicit trade poses to biodiversity.

In addition, a Cetme assault rifle, a Mauser carbine, 14 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition, €5,000 in cash, various documents related to the specimens, and two mobile phones were seized.

This operation was made possible thanks to the collaboration between the law enforcement agencies of the European Union and falls within the framework of the fight against the illegal trafficking of protected species, as promoted by the Spanish Action Plan against the illegal trafficking and international poaching of wild species, known as the “TIFIES” Plan. Since its approval, this plan has fostered close collaboration between the Guardia Civil’s SEPRONA and the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, which serves as the main administrative authority and management body for the CITES convention in Spain.

The investigations were conducted under the direction of the Court of First Instance and Instruction No. 1 of Villena (Alicante). The confiscated specimens have been transferred to specialised CITES rescue centres designated by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, according to the species.

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