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21 Nov, 2014 14:07

‘We’ll feed you to the crocodile!’ Italian mafia threaten local businesses with exotic animals

​The Italian mafia is getting exotic these days, threatening local business owners by using ferocious animals such as tigers, crocodiles and even drug-dealing parrots to extract protection money.

A whole range of illegal pets has been found in the Campania region in southern Italy, Corriere della Sera reported.

Environmental police in Orta di Atella commune have recently seized a real-life crocodile being kept on the rooftop of a house.

Local mafia used the predator to “persuade” the businessmen who were late to pay “pizzo” - a slang word for protection money - for Christmas, Easter and the Ferragosto holiday (the Italian public holiday celebrated on August 15).

"Pay up or be fed to the crocodile," the criminals told unfortunate business owners.

According to the country’s environmental police, the trade in predator animals reached “an appalling level.”

The head of the mafia group in Mugnano has purchased a Siberian tiger, a scary predator and a man-eater, to place outside his posh villa.

Siberian tigers (Reuters / Mathieu Belanger)

According to the investigation, mafiosi also take snakes to menace their competitors. Anacondas and rattlesnakes proved to be the most popular among scary reptiles on the black market.

A 10-foot-long boa constrictor was among the animals recovered by police in Villa Literno. The mobsters smashed the car window of a 58-year-old businessman and put the reptile on the back seat.

“People who trafficked drugs beforehand have now changed their markets to rare or dangerous animals,” investigators told Corriere della Serra.

Drug-dealing parrots are the strangest in the menagerie of the Corleone-style Italian region’s nasty pets.

Police recently grabbed a pair of parrots who were a part of drug-dealing operation in the Traiano district in Naples. When a phone rang, they would respond by imitating a human voice, saying: “Hello, how much do you need?”

But if someone tried to take them out of the cage, the birds would scream: “Now I’ll shoot you!”

One of three most powerful mafia syndicates in Italy, the Camorra, which dates back to the 18th century, likes purchasing rare and exotic animals, said Marco Trapuzzano, environmental police commissioner.

The animals are status symbols, too.

Children of mafia bosses in Orta di Atella like to show off by walking along the street with a monkey or a parrot on their shoulder. Meanwhile, the mob boss in Avellino demanded two monkeys in the room where he holds meetings with his associates.

AFP Photo / Mohd Rasfan

“Monkeys, for example, are classified as ‘dangerous’ not only because of the noted ‘bite of the monkey’ but also because they transmit deadly diseases, like so many other exotic animals,” Trapuzzano said.

“This is not something which we hear a lot about from EU member states,” Soren Kragh Pedersen, a spokesman for Europol, told The Local. "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."