Rhinos, cheetahs, lions, lynxes, polar bears… Chairs upholstered in crocodile skin, benches made from elephant legs, tusks. The Seprona (body of the Civil Guard dedicated to the Protection of Nature) has intervened in the town of Bétera (Valencia) 1,090 pieces of stuffed animals. It is the largest collection of stuffed animals found in Spain and one of the largest in Europe. The first calculations estimate the value of the collection in more than 29 million euros. They are, says the Civil Guard, conservative estimates that once all the intervened material is catalogued, it could rise considerably.
The researchers began their work in November 2021. Then they learned through a notice of the possible existence of this collection. In the end, on April 6, the agents called ‘Operation Valcites’: they went to a farm in Bétera – a municipality of 23,000 in Valencia – and asked its owner for permission to enter and search the house – a three-story house – and the ships -two- that are on the ground. The owner, whose identity has not yet transpired although it is known that he is Spanish, refused and did not let the agents enter. The Civil Guard returned shortly after with a court order and began to search the house and the sheds.
The details of the ‘Valcites’ operation have been provided by Carlos Domínguez, chief lieutenant of Seprona in Valencia. He has explained that they did not expect to find such a large collection.
Many of the seized specimens -405 of the 1,090- belong to protected species CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).. Two of the dissected species correspond to extinct animals -case of a oryx dammahwho inhabited North Africa– or on the verge of extinction, like the addax -also African and known as the white antelope- or the Bengal tiger.
This according to the first records. That is, when the experts finish classifying the seized material it is possible that there will be more stuffed animals considered protected.
Most of the specimens seized they were hidden in a 600-square-meter warehouse divided into several rooms. In addition, another shed of 150 square meters and the home of the owner of the collection, a three-story chalet, were registered. The walls of the enclosure where the ‘collector’ hid the pieces had been decorated with paintings on the walls as if it were a savannah: blue skies with clouds, lakes, lush vegetation…
The list of animals and other pieces discovered is as exotic as it is long. A) Yes, 11 leopard skins and eight copies of this animal, three other cheetahs (plus three skins), black rhinos, a polar bear and a giraffe. 11 boxes were also seized, two ivory tusks each.. But there were many more: in total, 198 were found, they were large elephant ivory tusks. made from elephant feet. In total, material from 70 different species.
The Civil Guard has also found other stuffed animals that the law protects in different ways. Thus, there was a cheetah, birds, monkeys, a leopard, a lion, a lynx, a polar bear, a snow leopard, a white rhinoceros.
The ‘collector’ is being investigated, to this day, by the smuggling crimes and another related to the protection of flora and fauna.
The inspectors and facultative technicians of the Technical Unit of the Headquarters of the Nature Protection Service and members of the Legal Institute and Forensic Sciences have collaborated in the operation, which thanks to the Integrated System of Management and Control of Quality and the Environment have been able to identify the protected species.
According to those responsible for the investigation, when it concludes “The appropriate contacts will be made so that the animals end up in a museum of natural sciences”. Along these lines, Chief Lieutenant Domínguez explained that it is about, at least, “citizens can see the animals, because there are some extinct that will never be able to see”. The Civil Guard has described the spectacle that the agents found as “Dantesque”. For now, the animals remain on the farm, which has been sealed by order of court number 2 of Llíria.
The owner of the collection, who has not been arrested, must declare before the Justice and He has been accused of a crime against the protection of wild flora and fauna and another of smuggling. The first carries sentences of one to two years in prison, and the second, from one to five years in prison..
One of the key elements is that the detainee has not presented any documentation that can certify the legal origin of the animals. Chief Lieutenant Domínguez has pointed out that even if the collection were an inheritance, the person under investigation would face the same charges because “The mere possession or possession of CITES animals without their supporting documentation constitutes a crime”.
“At the moment, We are not aware that you have the documentation of any of the animals found and we are waiting for you to provide it to us”, has pointed out the lieutenant chief of the Valencia Command, who has indicated that the Civil Guard “does not know” until the investigated person gives a statement if this collection of stuffed animals “responds to a personal use of the owner or to an accumulation for its subsequent sale ”.
Seprona agents, biologists and veterinarians participated in the search of the house, as reported by Europa Press, to identify the multitude of CITES and non-CITES species, as well as members of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, with the objective of “dating the ivory found”.
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