Mobsters in Italy’s Campania region have created a veritable circus of illegal pets, to help them carry out their mafia tasks, Corriere della Sera reported.
In one incident, the environmental police (Corpo Forestale dello Stato) in Orta di Atella found a crocodile on a rooftop.
The animal was used by the local mafia boss to intimidate business owners who were late paying the “pizzo” protection money at Christmas, Easter and the Ferr'Agosto holiday, Corriere said. "Pay up or be fed to the crocodile," the mafioso threatened.
The trade in dangerous animals in Italy has reached “an appalling level”, the environmental police said.
In Mugnano the head of a mafia clan ordered a Siberian tiger be placed outside his home, harking back to 1980s Naples when the Giuliano di Forcella clan kept lions and tigers, Corriere said.
Søren Kragh Pedersen, spokesman for Europe's law enforcement agency, Europol, said "this is not something which we hear a lot about from the EU member states.
"The fact is that you will find criminals with an interest in exotic and dangerous animals and of course these can be used to threaten other people, but this is also the case with big aggressive dogs for instance," he told The Local.
But in Italy the use of exotic pets goes beyond intimidation. Recently the police seized a pair of grey parrots in the city’s Traiano neighbourhood, only to discover they played a part in the drugs trade.
When a vet brought a ringing telephone to one of the parrots, it would imitate a human voice: “Hello, how much do you need?”
If the parrots became distressed, or someone tried to take them out of their cage, the birds had the response ready: “Now I’ll shoot you!”
Snakes have also made their way onto the criminal market, with anacondas and rattlesnakes proving especially popular, the newspaper reported.
“People who trafficked drugs beforehand have now changed their markets to rare or dangerous animals,” investigators told Corriere.
A boa constrictor can cost around €500, while a Siberian tiger carries a price tag of €30,000.
Marco Trapuzzano, environmental police commissioner, said that the use of animals had been associated with the Camorra - one of Italy’s three most powerful mafia groups.
Mobsters’ children in Orta di Atella, north of Naples, now show off their status with a parrot or monkey on their shoulder, Corriere said. Not far away, a mafia boss in Avellino reportedly requested two monkeys be placed in a room where he met affiliates.
But the mafia bosses appear unaware of the risks they could be taking with their new pets.
“Monkeys, for example, are classified as ‘dangerous’ not only because of the noted ‘bite of the monkey’ but also because they transmit deadly disease, like so many other exotic animals,” Trapuzzano was quoted as saying.
The environmental police were not available to comment on the phenomenon when contacted by The Local.