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Police catch Costa Rica orchid thief red-handed

They look a little worse for rare here but they would make a spectacular bouquet.

Costa Rican National Police officers nabbed a thief Friday morning carrying not stolen cameras or cellphones but orchids, according to a statement from the Public Security Ministry. The practice of poaching orchids is common but illegal in Costa Rica and hurts wild populations of the eye-catching blooms.

Rodrigo Araya, assistant director of the National Police in Heredia, said that an anonymous tip alerted the police that a 42-year-old man surnamed Sánchez Rojas was carrying 66 of the flowers with him. Authorities arrested Sánchez in Vara Blanca, Heredia.

Araya said that the flowers did not appear to be taken from protected land.

The suspect was handed over to the flagrancy court in Heredia for sentencing and the epiphytes to the Environment Ministry.

The collection of orchids ranged from common to rare species, including the yellow oncidium, known as “lluvia de oro” in Spanish, and the miniature lephantes species, according to a statement from the Prosecutor’s Office.

Trafficking in wildlife and flora is punishable with a fine or up to four months in prison.

Mario Blanco, director of the Lankester Botanical Garden at the University of Costa Rica, told The Tico Times it was hard to gauge the size of the black market for orchids but that snatching the flowers was a common practice. Participants in the black market range from Ticos looking to turn a quick buck to foreign flower aficionados traveling to Costa Rica to collect rare specimens.

Blanco did not hazard a guess about the value of the orchid black market but said that he remembered cases of unscrupulous vendors attaching flowers from rarer, more valuable orchids to more common species in hopes of driving up the price.

The director said that collection of the unique flowers has driven down wild populations. Some, like Costa Rica’s national flower, “Guaria Morada” (Guarianthe skinneri), and the “Guaria de Turrialba” (Cattleya dowiana) can be hard to find in the country’s forests.

There are 1,400 species of orchid in Costa Rica, 20 percent of which are only found here, according to the Lankester Botanical Garden at the University of Costa Rica.

“People’s awareness about environmental issues is growing,” Blanco said. “It makes me happy to know someone reported it.”

AFP contributed to this report.


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