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Russian bureaucracy turns colorful exotic animals’ business black

Published time: May 09, 2010 14:37
Edited time: May 09, 2010 14:37

RT has examined the black market for exotic pets thriving amid Russian bureaucracy.

Exotic animals’ lover Aleksey Khmyrev has turned his kitchen into a mini-jungle full of snakes, lizards, parrots, and bats.

Aleksey is a private collector who cares deeply about his reptilian friends. Any pet at home is a source of problems, but keeping exotic creatures is also a tricky business – concerning not only types of food one has to find.

“It’s a path full of disappointment,” Aleksey told RT. “An animal is a living creature and needs care. Sometimes the cost of keeping the animal is much more than the cost of buying one.”

Exotic animals may be hard to take care of, but they are even harder to get into the country.

Evgeny Rybaltovsky is one of Russia’s few animal importers. He spends months travelling the world to buy exotic specimens and many more frustrating months trying to do all the necessary paperwork to bring them to Russia.

“Veterinary laws in Russia are so complicated that a British company that supplied butterflies to the Moscow zoo said that they had never had such a difficult delivery. They were told that they had to provide certification that their butterflies weren’t ill with anthrax – a disease which is dangerous for cows and horses. Butterflies can’t even contract the disease,” Evgeny said.

The problem with bureaucracy being so difficult is that it drives many importers into the black market.

“Unlike in other countries which have strict laws everyone must observe, our laws just create problems for those who do legal business because these laws are very difficult to implement. Naturally, such situation creates favorable conditions for the animals’ black market,” Evgeny told RT.

The journey of such “black” animals to Russia is a tale of neglect. Many are coming to the country en-route from starvation and exposure. Even for the few who get to Russia, it is a deadly lottery.

“80% of the demand is from amateurs who buy animals just for fun. They don’t understand that a monkey is not a CD player that you can turn off when you don’t need it,” coordinator of WWF Aleksey Vaisman told RT.

Some of the worst offenders are photographers eager for a cute young chimp or cub for their photo shoots. However, as such animals grow up, their wild instincts become more pronounced. The result is that owners soon get bored of their pets and play out the final piece of the animal’s tragedy.

“Some October, November or December night they just take it to a park and leave it there. With the first frosts, it dies. The body is quickly picked apart by crows,” Vaisman said.

Evgeny and his animals have to jump through hoops to get to customers. Other do not want the trouble and ignore the complex Russian rules on importing rare species. However, the ultimate cost of the black market falls not on suppliers or buyers, but on the animals themselves.