for National Geographic News
In the dark of night, thieves armed with wire cutters and cages are snatching endangered species from zoos and private collections throughout the world.
Last month about 50 exotic birds were stolen from a private collection in the United Kingdom. In December a pair of prized African gray parrots were snatched from Australia's Adelaide Zoo.
And last year a rare chuckwalla lizard was taken from the Oklahoma City Zoo in the United States.
John Hayward, a former police officer who runs Britain's National Theft Register—a database of stolen animals—said thefts of exotic and endangered species are on the rise.
"If anybody wants [an exotic animal], chances are they're not going to go into the tropical rain forest to try and find one," he said.
"It's far easier to break into somebody's private collection or zoo and steal one."
Of England's 60 zoos, he added, 5 were targeted last year by a criminal gang who took some 200 animals, most of which were exotic birds, small primates, and rare reptiles.
(Read about efforts to combat the illegal trade in chimpanzees.)
Exotic Animal Black Market
Hayward said the stolen animals wind up in the pet trade, roadside zoos, or private collections. Others are used in breeding programs.
Money is the motive. The more rare or endangered the species, the higher the price the animal can fetch on the black market.
"We view this type of criminality very similar to the theft of fine arts and antiques," Hayward said.
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