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It sounds like the start of a heartstring-tugging kids’ film: On January 14, in the western Romanian city of Arad, the cops received a series of calls reporting that children were chasing a kangaroo down by the railroad tracks. At first they assumed it was a joke, but later they were called by the railroad police, who said, essentially, no, it was a real animal, and yes, they had it in custody. When the cops arrived to pick the kangaroo up, it had already died, of stress or suffocation, in the trunk of a railroad policeman’s car, which is where this story ceases to be anything resembling a movie for kids.
Nobody has assumed responsibility for the death of the kangaroo. The local police told me that the situation is the responsibility of the railroad police in Arad, because it was their trunk in which the kangaroo had died. But the railroad police in Arad told me that it was the job of the railroad officers at the Aradul Nou station, since they were the ones who had caught the animal. The Aradul Nou station cops said I should talk to the local police. After I told them that I already called the local police, they simply said, “Then we can’t help you. Have a nice day.”
But never mind whose jurisdiction the kangaroo expired in. The real question is, how the heck did it show up in Arad in the first place? Livia Cimpoeru, a spokeswoman for Vier Pfoten, an animal rights organization that had complained to the local police about the kangaroo, said that the bouncy marsupials had become a recent hot item for exotic-animal dealers and collectors.
”More and more kangaroos show up in Romania, like we’re turning into Australia,” she explained. “Last year, I personally followed a driver who was transporting a kangaroo. Another kangaroo was seen at the border with Hungary. Two other kangaroos were attacked and eaten by stray dogs.”
This past year has seen many cases of animal trafficking in Romania—in one memorable incident, an entire illegal zoo that included four lions and two bears was found in the backyard of a mafia boss. It’s illegal for ordinary people to sell kangaroos, or any other wild beasts, but the laws surrounding trafficking animals are vague—the penalty is likely to be, at most, a year in prison and a 400-euro [$550] fine for animal cruelty. At those prices, who can afford not to hawk a few kangas for spare cash?
The issue, Livia told me, is that the Romanian authorities don’t seem to care about the illegal animal trade. “Romania is a transit country for an extraordinary animal-trafficking ring that goes through Hungary,” she said. “The border police aren’t doing their jobs, and the local police are just shrugging their shoulders. They know that they’d have to confiscate the animal, but they don’t know what to do with it—they’d have to call the mayor’s office, the local zoo, and veterinarians. So they just say, ‘Screw it; we have more important things to do.’”