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As the importance of endangered species crime at last gets attention, a bizarre offence.

FCRO Subsection: 
Editorial Staff

At the Financial Crime Forum's 2006 forum in Hong Kong, one session dealt with the trade in endangered species. With the very recent and belated acknowledgement by international bodies that such conduct is, in fact, a financial crime, there is a welcome focus on the profits from such trade rather than solely on the animals and their products. In the USA last week, a bizarre offence came to court but this time, the defendant says, it was nothing to do with profit.

According to a statement by the FBI, nineteen year-old Californian Aquinas Kasbar pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of "unlawfully" (they are American - they mean "illegally") "taking an endangered species." (They are American. Of course they meant an "animal of an endangered species" not the entire species.) While the term "misdemeanor" might sound like it's a trivial offence, that is not the case. It is a federal offence for which the maximum penalty is a jail term not exceeding one year. In this case, a plea agreement is for jail of one year plus a fine of USD100,000. It is clearly not regarded as a trivial offence.

Kasbar admitted that he broke into the Santa Ana Zoo in July last year. He used bolt-cutters to gain entry into the enclosure for the endangered Ring Tail Lemurs and capuchin monkeys. He then stole a lemur called Isaac.

Isaac is a very special animal: he's a ring-tailed lemur which is one of the USA's most endangered species. Even more special is that Lemurs have a typical natural life span of between twenty and twenty-five years. Isaac, the oldest living lemur in captivity in the USA, was 32 years old.

Kasbar said that he intended to keep the animal as a pet but the next morning realised that that was a stupid thing to do. He put the animal in a "plastic drawer without ventilation holes" and put it on the steps of a hotel. In the drawer, with the animal, he left two notes. One said that the animal was a "Lemur (with tracker)" and the other "This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring [he's American - he meant "take"] it to the police."

Isaac was returned to the zoo unharmed but the total loss to the zoo was calculated at about USD8,500. There is no news of the other animals that escaped through the holes Kasbar cut in the enclosures.

One of the reasons for the decline in populations, says the FBI, is the illegal pet trade.



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