from The Times of London

      Thieves use apes and snakes to threaten victims

Monday, October 2, 2000

FRENCH criminal gangs are using snakes and Barbary apes to intimidate their victims and ward off the police.

According to French detectives and vets, dangerous reptiles and monkeys are increasingly common in the run-down estates around big cities.

François Grandjean of the Paris Fire Brigade and a lecturer at the Alfort Veterinary School, near the capital, said several gangs of muggers were operating with snakes instead of the more traditional knives.

Victims on the Métro and on the streets of Paris claim they have been threatened with a fatal bite if they fail to hand over their wallets, handbags and mobile phones.

M Grandjean said: "Not all of the snakes are poisonous, but if someone attacks you, you don't hang around to check. Whereas we used to catch about ten of these snakes a year, now we are up to 150 or 160." Poisonous reptiles represent about a third of the total caught by his specialist team, but they capture only a small proportion of the underworld snakes in French urban estates.

Police are also worried by a number of threats using Barbary apes, which have flourished following a crackdown by the authorities on pitbull terriers.

About 500 of the apes from north Africa and Gibraltar,which sell in France for up to £600, are believed to have been smuggled into the country.

The apes can become aggressive and dangerous if removed from their native environment and brought up in isolation.

They weigh less than 55lbs but have muscles five times as strong as a man's and a jaw that can inflict serious injury.

"There is every reason to be afraid," Marie-Claude Bomsel-Demontoy, a vet at the Natural History Museum in Paris, said. "The male apes, considering men to be their rivals, [will attack] their sexual organs first."

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