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2 men arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle baby river otter into Japan

One of the small-clawed river otter pups discovered by the Haneda Branch Customs of Tokyo Customs is seen in this photo provided by Tokyo Customs.

TOKYO -- Two men were arrested on suspicion of violating the Customs Act for attempting to smuggle a baby small-clawed river otter into Japan, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) announced on Jan. 23.

The MPD's consumer and environmental protection division arrested Ryoya Hamano, 24, a resident of the capital's Katsushika Ward, and 52-year-old Kazuhito Morita of no fixed address on the attempted smuggling and other charges. The occupations of Hamano and Morita are unknown. The MPD is investigating the possibility that the two men are part of a larger group

The suspects are thought to have tried to bring five baby otters into Japan from Thailand through Haneda Airport in Tokyo around early October 2018. They were arrested on Jan. 21, and both are said to have admitted to the allegations against them.

According to the environmental protection division, Hamano and Morita tried to smuggle the animals by plane, but they were discovered during screening by the Haneda Branch Customs of Tokyo Customs. As the pups were stuffed into a suitcase and otherwise in poor condition, four out of the five had died, police said.

Small-clawed river otters, which are native to Southeast Asia, have gained popularity in recent years due to their loveable nature. However, the species is in danger of extinction, and their international trade is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

When being imported into Japan, permission from the government of the nation of export, as well as permission from the Japanese minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and customs is required. Import without permission from all these government bodies is prohibited under the Customs Act.

(Japanese original by Ikuko Ando, City News Department)

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