Anatolia's biodiversity remains under threat of biosmugglers

Published 02.04.2016 00:00

Anatolia, Turkey's heartland, which is rich in flora and fauna, has often been the target of biosmugglers in recent years. Smugglers, mostly from European countries, seek to profit from cultivating species endemic to Turkey in their home countries.

Authorities stepped up efforts to clamp down on smugglers and a string of operations were conducted last year against suspected smugglers. A total of 91 suspects were detained in the past five years and they were fined a total of TL 2.8 million ($993,683). Biosmuggling is subject to fines that amount to at least TL 40,000, while suspects are also deported.

Northern Turkey is apparently popular among German smugglers as three citizens of that country were detained in the province of Ardahan with 14 salamanders that face risk of extinction, along with one rattlesnake and three different plant species. Another German national was captured in the city of Gümüşhane in possession of 68 different species of insects, while four Japanese nationals were detained for attempts to smuggle butterflies and insects out of the country last year in Gümüşhane.

Biosmuggling is not limited to the country's north, known for it's lush forests. In Mersin, a southern city on the Mediterranean coast, two Russians were captured last year with insects and butterflies they tried to smuggle. In Antalya, another Mediterranean city, three Hungarian nationals were detained in 2015 as they were illegally collecting rare species of orchids with plans to raise the plant back in Europe.

Biosmugglers use venom, enzymes or biochemical materials derived from smuggled plants and animals in sectors ranging from medicine, food, cosmetics and defense.

Turkey boasts a vast array of insects and plants, and is home to 12,000 different species of plants while Europe as a whole has only 13,000 different species in total.

The government launched a nationwide project against biosmuggling. The country earmarked a budget of TL 1.5 million for the project that includes legal and administrative measures against smuggling, a campaign to raise awareness against smuggling and gather public support against the smugglers. Authorities urge locals to notify law enforcement if they encounter foreigners collecting plants and animals.

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