Authorities on Tuesday said they uncovered a warren of dozens of reptiles and amphibians crammed into a small central Tel Aviv apartment, as part of a worldwide crackdown on animals being sold on the exotic pet black market.
Among the reptiles found were some that posed a serious danger to the local ecology and even to people, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said in a statement Wednesday.
Police detained a Tel Aviv resident, 30, on suspicion of holding and trading without a permit in species that are illegal for private collection. The animals were estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
The reptiles, which were apparently smuggled into the country, were recovered in June by INPA officials in cooperation with the Border Police as part of a worldwide Interpol operation dubbed “Thunderball” carried out last month.
“We reiterate that all reptiles and wild animals are protected wildlife, whether native or non-Israeli species,” the INPA said. “The holding and trade in them must be done under a permit from the Nature and Parks Authority.”
Along with dozens of aquariums and cases to store the reptiles, the apartment also had equipment for breeding worms and insects for use as food for the illegal collection.
Among the reptiles was the common snapping turtle, which the INPA warned could be dangerous to people and the local ecology. The turtles have “terrifying jaws and among the strongest bites in nature, which can even break and cut off human fingers,” the INPA said.
The stockpile also included poison dart frogs, which excrete strong toxins from their skin, and leaf-tailed geckos smuggled in from Madagascar.
“It is important to emphasize that bringing these species to Israel endangers nature twice — firstly by harming and removing rare species, some of them endangered, from their source countries and the secondly by [possibly] introducing these species to the local nature of the country,” said Yatir Shamir, head of INPA’s Wildlife Protection Department.
Operation Thunderball was carried out during June with the participation of enforcement authorities in 100 countries.
According to the INPA statement, more than 500 suspects were arrested worldwide during the operation. which netted thousands of illegally held animals including 23 monkeys and 30 large cats (e.g., tigers) as well as 440 pieces of elephant tusk and an additional 545 kilograms of ivory.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.