Brazil police break up gang of wild animal traffickers

By March 14, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil — Brazil’s Federal Police on Tuesday carried out a major operation against wild animal traffickers in the country.

Around 100 officers took part in the operation to dismantle a criminal organization specializing in the illegal capture, reception and sale of different Brazilian fauna, some of which are endangered.

The operation took place across five cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro, including the capital.

According to investigators, a firefighter led the gang, which was also made up of hunters, veterinarians, and even environmental police officers. The firefighter and two others in the gang were arrested.

At the fireman’s home in the municipality of Maricá, agents found a pony living in terrible conditions, tied to a trailer in front of the man’s house. At the same location, two deer native to regions of Europe, Mesopotamia and North Africa, were also seized in another phase of the operation.

Deer found in gang leader’s house (courtesy Federal Police)

How the operation functioned

In order to sell wildlife without arousing authorities’ suspicions, the criminal group allegedly co-opted employees from the Rio de Janeiro State Environmental Institute (INEA), who aided the gang by supplying registrations and official seals attesting to the legality of purchases of the wild animals.

The gang offered a catalogue of animals including macaws, parrots, deer, iguanas, birds and monkeys. Within the catalogue was also the option to buy a crested capuchin monkey (Sapajus robustus), which is classified as endangered.

According to the Federal Police, at least 120 capuchin monkeys were sold by criminals in just one year.

The investigations revealed that after the animals were captured in the wild, they were imprisoned, kept in degrading conditions, often without access to water or food, and sold via social media. The prices ranged from R$20,000 (USD $4,000) to R$120,000 (USD $25,000), depending on the species. The police believe that the criminals profited up to R$14 million (USD $2.8 million) from their illicit business.

Animals rescued in the operation against wildlife trafficking (courtesy Federal Police)

The operation to combat animal trafficking began in January 2023 when Federal Police and official from the Brazilian Environmental Institute (IBAMA) seized three pet capuchin monkeys at the home of the famous Brazilian digital influencer Nicole Bahls, located in the city of Itaboraí, in the interior of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

At the time, the inspectors found that the monkeys’ documents were irregular and the animals were removed from the home.

Gang members could face charges of criminal organization, receiving stolen goods, environmental crime, embezzlement, forgery of public documents and seals, forgery of private documents, use of false documents and ideological falsehood. If they are convicted, they could face sentences ranging from 46 to 58 years in prison.

Buyers of the illegal animals could also be liable for the crime of receiving the animals, with the exception of those who collaborated with the investigations by spontaneously handing them over and giving explanations to the Environmental Crimes Repression Police.