Mafia 'use crocodiles and anacondas to frighten victims'

Italian police warn exotic animals are becoming the Mafia's weapon of choice as their trade intensifies

(Image credit: Warren Little/Getty )

Mafia bosses are increasingly using dangerous and exotic animals to extort protection money from business owners and intimidate rivals, Italian police have revealed.

"Instead of a bullet, the Camorra [a Mafia syndicate] are using these animals," Captain Marco Trapuzzano, a senior officer with Italy's environmental police told Italian newspaper Corriere della Ser.

He revealed that police had confiscated a hoard of exotic animals from known mafia members including anacondas, crocodiles, a tiger and even a parrot trained to squawk: "I'll shoot you".

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In one case, police raided a Mafia henchman's apartment and discovered a crocodile on his balcony. It was later revealed that the crocodile was placed in a room with anyone who refused to pay protection money. "Pay up or be fed to the crocodile," was the threat. The animal was "more convincing and made less noise" than conventional weapons, Corriere reports.

In a separate incident, a 10ft long boa constrictor was left on the back seat of a businessman's car. "It was a clear message of intimidation," said Trapuzzano.

"This is not something which we hear a lot about from the EU member states," Soren Kragh Pedersen, a spokesperson from Europol, told The Local. But Italian police say the use of the animals is reaching "alarming levels".

The animals are also used as status symbols to impress friends and rivals alike, so their illicit trade has become big business for the Mafia as exotic pets command huge sums on the black market.

"People who trafficked drugs beforehand have now changed their markets to rare or dangerous animals," investigators said.

The animals that have been removed by police are taken to zoos or conservation parks. "We are lucky to have found them. In a lot of other cases their owners get bored of them after a while and dump them in the streets, condemning them to die," said Trapuzzano.

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