Unusual exhibition in southern Hungary illustrates the problem of the illegal trade in endangered species


In Hungary, there's the grim reality of dead animals found in vehicles crossing the Hungarian border. In the most recent case officials found the frozen bodies of 125 birds in a refrigerated trailer. They were estimated to be worth up to 2 million forints - around 10,000 US dollars - on the black market. To illustrate the problem of the illegal trade in endangered species an exhibition of luxury items made from endangered animals opened at the zoo in Pecs, southern Hungary recently.

Radio Budapest asked Katalin Radics from the Environment Ministry to explain what it was about...

"It's about an international convention called CITES, which is a convention dealing with endangered species of wild flora and fauna, and with the international trade in the species that interest mankind, that are wanted as pets or for making leather out of. Unfortunately more than 35,000 species are close to extinction due to this type of trading"

Is Hungary a signature to this international organization?

"Yes, for more than twenty years we have been part of the Washington convention, and we play a very active role in this convention. Hungary is a transit country to one of the biggest markets in the world, the western European pet market. Because of our geographical situation we have always been a through road for the Turks, the Mongolians and now this illegal trade in animals."

What kind of species are traded?

"In Europe the tortoise is the most popular species so almost every month our customs officials find an illegal shipment of them, originating from the Balkans or the former Soviet Union. Also in Hungary we have some indigenous protected species which also interest smugglers. Birds of prey for example and a small viper called the Russini snake, this is a special snake which is not too dangerous for people but is endangered by people because it is so frequently picked up by people that it is slowly disappearing from our territory."

Exactly what can people see at this current exhibition?

"The main purpose is education, we try to educate people not to buy these types of live animals, snakes, monkey, parrots and other species commonly sold illegally throughout the world. And also we would like to inform people that they should not buy some products as a tourist when they are abroad. Sometimes people buy leather shoes or ivory products, beautiful statues and so forth. And they are just not aware the trouble they are getting into.

"There are sometimes criminal cases where someone is found at the border with something like an ivory statue. This is an illegal shipment and the person carrying it is charged with smuggling, but perhaps he is just a tourist who knows nothing about the nature conservation agreement. So we think that it is very important to inform people. And it is very important to inform people who like animals and want a pet. We ask them not to keep animals taken from the wild, but instead some animal bred in captivity. This is better and its owners don't have to feel bad. If it is taken from the wild then they are participating in a very destructive process."