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Man nabbed for smuggling 40,000 piranhas into US

February 3, 2014 Destination North America, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A New Yorker has pleaded guilty to smuggling nearly 40,000 deadly razor-toothed piranha fish into the United States.

Piranhas, freshwater fish originating in South American rivers, are extremely aggressive and territorial. They are known for their sharp teeth and a voracious appetite for meat.



Joel Rakower pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to smuggling the piranhas from 2011 to 2012, according to a US Department of Justice statement cited by CNN.

The case demonstrates how easily prohibited or protected wildlife can be obtained and moved internationally – not just by smugglers moving animals through airports in suitcases or stashed inside the lining of their coats.

In a plea agreement, Rakower admitted that his company purchased piranhas from a Hong Kong tropical fish supplier and imported them to New York, according to the statement cited by CNN.

Rakower instructed the foreign supplier to falsely label the exotic fish on packing lists as a common and unaggressive aquarium fish, the silver tetra. This circumvented New York City laws which ban the possession of piranhas, the statement said.

Rakower smuggled 39,548 piranhas over the course of 2011 and 2012,  according to the statement.

He was “driven by greed and without regard for the health and safety of people or the environment,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who helped investigate the case, declared.

The case comes as smuggling of exotic animals is on the increase worldwide. Just last week, at least 400 reptiles and amphibians smuggled from Madagascar and destined for America’s exotic pet trade were found dead at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, after their connecting flight was delayed. They had been packed in a crate without food or water and most had died. Surviving reptiles have been taken to the Johannesburg Zoo for treatment.

Rakower had nothing to do with that. He used his simpler and more straightforward false labelling technique to get his piranhas into the US.

Rakower agreed to pay more than USD 70,000 in fines and restitution. His company will serve a two-year period of probation and Rakower himself will be sentenced in April.

Piranhas are banned or restricted in many parts of the world. Some Brazilian rivers have warning signs about piranhas and lethal attacks by the fish have occurred in the Amazon basin. In 2011, a drunk 18-year-old man was swarmed and killed by piranhas in Rosario del Yata, Bolivia, and in 2012, a five-year-old Brazilian girl was attacked and killed by a shoal of the fish.

In the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, a piece of meat is shown being fed to pet piranhas owned by the film’s villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Seconds later, just a bone, stripped of flesh, is raised from the water. Later in the movie, a woman is thrown into the piranha pool. All the film shows of that is water bubbling vigorously, suggesting she has been almost instantly devoured – but that may be taking the piranha legend too far.

Written by : Peter Needham

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