08 June 2020 – Recent research in Albania by global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS reveals shocking findings. Legally protected native wildlife such as brown bears, wolves and birds of prey and exotic animals such as monkeys are being offered for sale on Albania's most visited online marketplaces, namely "MerrJep" and “Mirlir”. The buyers are mostly private individuals and restaurant owners who make the animals perform as guest attractions. In addition, the environmental NGO "Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania" (PPNEA) found wildlife dishes, including bear meat, on the menus of local restaurants. The “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe” (OSCE) is also ringing the alarm bells: according to police reports, environmental crime in Albania increased in the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period last year. FOUR PAWS is now urging the Albanian government to intervene quickly and protect animals.
Due to the massive decline of native wildlife in Albania, a hunting ban for protected species is already in effect until March 2021. It is illegal to hunt these animals, to catch them, to keep them in captivity and to commercially trade with them. The penalties, which were tightened in October 2019, range up to imprisonment. However, enforcement of the law has so far failed. “The Albanian state police needs to act now and take over its legal responsibilities. In addition to that, a serious wildlife sanctuary, which expedites criminal prosecution, takes in rescued animals, and educates locals about species protection, is urgently needed in Albania. FOUR PAWS has offered to support the Albanian government in the construction and management of such a sanctuary. Unfortunately, the authorities have shown little initiative so far”, explains Barbara van Genne, responsible for wild animal rescue and advocacy at FOUR PAWS.
Wildlife on sale on Albanian advertising platforms
In May 2020, FOUR PAWS took a close look at Albania’s most visited online marketplaces. In addition to exotic animals, such as monkeys, the research team found dozens of advertisements for brown bears, wolves and birds of prey – all of which are legally protected species in Albania. After FOUR PAWS reported some of the illegal advertisements, they were deleted, but new wildlife adverts promptly surfaced.
“Representatives of the platforms assured us that they block illegal ads and do not publish them. Nevertheless, many of these ads are still online. A large majority of them display severe animal cruelty, such as foxes with sealed muzzles in plastic boxes, bear cubs in chains and birds with their feet tied. The platforms need to introduce preventive measures such as seller identification to stop these ads. However, the main problem for the illegal trade remains – the lack of control and enforcement by the authorities”,
says Barbara van Genne, wild animal rescue and advocacy at FOUR PAWS.
Cruel find in Albanian restaurant
The local environmental NGO PPNEA drew FOUR PAWS' attention to a particularly disturbing discovery. On Facebook a restaurant in Drilon advertised bear meat on its menu. “FOUR PAWS has been active in Albania since 2015, but we have never seen such atrocities before. Up until now we have mainly focused on restaurants that keep bears in small cages for the entertainment of their guests. This bizarre new discovery is a further indication that the commercial wildlife trade in Albania is out of control. If the government does not intervene soon, the few native wild animals left will be history,” says van Genne, adding: “Unfortunately, we have already seen the decline of the Albanian heraldic animal, the eagle. In the 1990s, there were still about 200 pairs of eagles in Albania, but today only about half of them can be found. We do not want any other species to fall victim to this devastating decline.”