Prague, like many large European cities, harbours a variety of scams and frauds.
A common scam involves performances with exotic animals, in which tourists pay for the privilege of taking a photo with snakes, coloured pigeons, owls, and a variety of other animals.
During the pandemic, these scams seemed to vanish from the streets of Prague, but as tourists began to flock back to the capital of the Czech Republic, so did the people engaging in this illegal activity.
Despite the concerted and continuous effort on the part of the Municipal Police, the eradication of this fraud has proven difficult – if not impossible.
The spokeswoman for the Municipal Police, Irena Seifertova, informed the public that the most recent arrest involving exotic animals occurred on January 26th, 2023.
In this instance, a man, along with two assistants, were spotted soliciting tourists to take photos with barn owls in Old Town Square. The three suspects were charging anywhere from hundreds to several thousand crowns for this opportunity.
As reported by Seifertova, “The policeman … asked the man to submit a confirmation of the declaration of public production. The 32-year-old foreigner had no idea that he needed any confirmation. The summoned employee of the Czech Environmental Inspectorate then confirmed that the foreigner used protected barn owls for production and that animal cruelty was taking place here. Therefore, she confiscated both animals and took them away. The administrative body will deal with the man’s misdemeanour behaviour,”
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Police officers from the centre of the metropolis have been dealing with the problematic nature of performing with protected animals for several years. In most cases, these are foreigners, sometimes even organised groups, who have no inhibitions.” Seifertova added.
The requirement for a declaration of public production provides the police with the juridical means to penalise those who engage in such behaviour, but it does little to stem the seemingly unending flow of these scams. The lucrative nature of this enterprise makes it difficult to fully eradicate.
Some individuals are capable of earning over CZK 10,000 a day, while only having spent a few hundred crowns on the purchase of their animal.
Such a large financial incentive means that Prague can sometimes be inundated by live animal performers, populating the streets everywhere from Old Town Square to Charles Bridge.
Further, Police are unable to immediately arrest performers, instead only being able to issue a warning and inform the relevant authorities about the legal infraction.
“The mentioned persons were notified for suspected violation of market regulations (they offered a service – photo with birds), organized production with animals without proper notification and also used communication without permission (occupation of public space),” said Seifertová.
Even though the Prague Municipality issued fines totaling CZK 15,000 over the course of the previous year, such fines pale in comparison to the potential financial compensation one might earn engaging in performances with live animals.