Tokyo police have arrested a reptile wholesaler from Shizuoka and two other people on suspicion of illegally breeding and falsely registering four false gavials, a type of endangered crocodile, it was learned Wednesday.

By law, baby false gavials born through breeding may be sold if they are registered with authorities. On the black market, they sell for about 100,000 yen apiece, but the figure can jump to more than 1 million yen if the animals are registered, according to industry insiders.

The suspects include Tsuyoshi Shirawa, 36, who runs reptile wholesaler Rep Japan, and 59-year-old Toshio Imai, director of a tropical theme park in the hot springs town of Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture.

Police allege they made the false registrations in a bid to boost the price of animals that Shirawa had obtained illegally.

According to an investigation, Shirawa applied in October 2003 with the Japan Wildlife Research Center, which is under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry, to register four false gavials that he claimed were hatched out of five eggs he received from Imai. The applications were granted two months later.

Shirawa later sold one of the animals to a pet shop for roughly 1 million yen, police alleged.

The Kusatsu theme park in September 2003 became the first facility in Japan to successfully hatch false gavial eggs. Imai gave Shirawa five eggs that were laid around the same time but were not going to hatch, police said. Imai then allegedly forged documents saying the animals Shirawa was registering had hatched from those eggs.

False gavials can grow to some 5 meters long, and their snout is unusually long. They live in rivers and swamps on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, but their numbers are dwindling due to hunting and destruction of their natural habitat, according to experts.

Rep Japan, with annual sales of some 300 million yen, is known as one of the largest reptile wholesalers in Japan.

Gavials are covered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

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