Airport police in Manaus, Brazil, have seized a huge number of Amazonian fish hidden inside three large suitcases.
A total of 672 fish were seized on October 14. There were seven species in all — a record number of species — including one threatened with extinction and two undescribed species. They had been packed inside cut-off plastic bottles and bags. Many had bruising and some — including two stingrays — died.
The fish were taken to the National Research Institute of the Amazon (INPA) for unpacking, and then they were transferred into larger tanks (scroll down for video). They included more than 300 Zebra plecs, Hypancistrus zebra, which are endemic to a small stretch of the Xingu River and under increasing threat of extinction due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam.
Jansen Zuanon of the National Research Institute of the Amazon (INPA) said that the situation regarding the Zebra plec is particularly worrying. "The Belo Monte destroyed the main habitat of the species, and this clandestine trade increases the pressure of what is left of this population,” Zuanon told Folha de S.Paulo. He added that an agreement with Colombia to ban the trade of this species would reduce smuggling, along with installation of inspection points at smaller airports in the region.
Two people were arrested as they attempted to travel to the town of Tabatinga, on the triple border with Peru and Colombia. It’s thought that from there the fish would have been taken over the border into Colombia — a popular smuggling route for Brazilian fish — from where they were destined for the aquarium trade. The pair — who were described to have been acting as ‘mules’ in a similar way to drug those used by drug smugglers — were charged with environmental crime and attempted smuggling.