75,000 cacti, monkeys and ivory seized in anti wildlife trafficking campaign

Some 75,000 cacti, monkeys, coral and kilos of ivory are among the items seized by Dutch officials in a major drive against wildlife trafficking, which took place between September and mid November. Operation Toucan is a national campaign in support of the CITES endangered species treaty, which also aims to build up a better picture of smuggling routes and boost public awareness about the illegal trade in plants and animals. This year, officials, police and customs experts were involved in raids across the country and on the Dutch Caribbean islands. In total, there were 217 separate investigations. The haul of illegal goods ranged from Korean face creams containing endangered types of the Aloe plant, a parcel containing six live snakes from the US and two dead toucans which had been sent from Uruguay to the Netherlands. Officials also picked up two live monkeys which were being kept as pets. Officials also confiscated rare tropical hardwood which was to be used as wall panelling and took coral from tourists on Bonaire who were planning to take it home. On the last day of the campaign, police seized seven kilos of ivory at a collectors fair in Utrecht. New this year was the involvement of the Meld Misdaad Anoniem crime tip-off hotline, the nature and farm ministry said. The ministry also said on Monday that from next March all trading in raw ivory in the Netherlands will be banned. Selling ivory dating from 1990 onwards was already illegal but this will be extended to cover the entire trade because of fraud with certificates and the difficulty in differentiating between new and old ivory, the minister said. The ministry is also working to set up a network of places where people can hand over ivory or plants and animals which may be on the CITES list.  More >

Ajax face Real Madrid in Champions League

Ajax's reward for reaching the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in 13 years is a daunting tie against 13-times winners Real Madrid. The Spanish giants are seeking a fourth straight victory in the competition, while the last of Ajax's four wins came in 1995. Real qualified as winners of their group, while Ajax finished second behind Bayern Munich. Defender Daley Blind said the Amsterdammers would go into the tie as underdogs, but added: 'If we play with the same energy, guts and flair as we did against Bayern we'll definitely create chances.' The two sides last met in the group stage of the 2013/14 competition, when Real won both matches 4-1. Only one of their twelve meetings has ended in a draw, with Real holding an overall 7-4 lead. The first leg will be played in the Amsterdam ArenA on February 13, with the return in Madrid on March 5.  More >

Scientists use contraceptive on fish

Researchers at a Dutch zoo have used a contraceptive method to control the breeding habits of a highly fertile species of ray for the first time. The breakthrough by biologist Max Janse and vet Henk Luten at Burgers' Zoo in Arnhem was announced in the Journal of Fish Biology. The pair used an implant to interrupt a female speckled eagle ray's hormone cycle and stop her reproducing. The zoo was involved in a breeding programme for the eagle ray (aetobatus ocellatus) which is a protected species, but after producing 58 offspring since 2009 it had run out of partner zoos who were willing to take the young rays. Previous specimens born in Arnhem have been sent to aquaria in Valencia, Tenerife and Denmark, but the scientists said that trying to rehouse the mother was too difficult. 'You need a lorry to move a ray that size. And in the meantime she kept on reproducing.' The large number of offspring also risked causing other problems in a confined space, wrote the researchers: 'We found that 21 young originated from one female ray. If all the fish are from the same specimen, they become too genetically similar, which can lead to complications.' The researchers said the long-term effects of the contraceptive implant were unknown. 'It will probably stop emitting hormones at some point, but we don't know that for sure. It could also be that the hormonal balance is permanently affected so that the fish can no longer produce young.'   More >

Compulsory patient data sharing dropped

The government is expected to withdraw a bill that would have allowed health insurers to share patients' details without their prior consent in an attempt to stamp out fraud. The measure was designed to reduce the potential for fraud in cases where people receive treatment from companies that have no contract with their insurer. The costs for this treatment have to be reclaimed afterwards, but insurers had no way of checking that the correct rates had been charged. Edith Schippers, health minister in the previous cabinet, drafted a bill that would have required care providers to share patients' details and information about the diagnosis with their insurer so they could assess if the treatment had been properly costed. However, the bill faced defeat in the Senate after the Labour party (PvdA), which supported the move while it was in government, changed its stance when it went into opposition. Senators are concerned that the move would breach patient confidentiality because clients would only be told afterwards that their information had been shared with their insurer. They also said that the doctors assessing the claims were not sufficiently independent because they were working for the insurer. Insurance companies said €27 million was lost through fraud from non-contracted treatment in 2017, up by €8 million on the previous year. In recent years insurers have sought to reduce their liabilities and the cost to the consumer by limiting the range of care providers they have contracts with.  More >

Aboutaleb wants end to homelessness fines

Rotterdam's mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has backed calls to end the practice of fining homeless people for sleeping on the streets. Aboutaleb said homeless people should be given help and support rather than issued with fines they were unable to pay. 'I really want to stop this. It doesn't help our homeless,' he told the city council. The mayor was speaking during a debate on whether to extend the ban on drinking in public parks to all year round. Currently drinking outdoors is permitted between April and September. Many homeless people are fined for sleeping rough when they are caught drinking out of season. The initial fine of €90 can increase incrementally to €252 if it is not paid promptly. Aboutaleb called for the council to work with police and prosecution officials to find a better alternative to issuing fines, which then escalate because the homeless person is unable to pay them. TV presenter Beau van Erven Dorens recently launched a social media campaign to abolish fines for homelessness, arguing: 'It's not left or right, it's just stupid.'  More >

One more Michelin-starred restaurant in NL

Twelve restaurants in the Netherlands have been given their first Michelin star in this year’s award round, and two have been given a prestigious second star. The 12 new one-star eateries almost entirely make up for the loss of 11, most of which have stopped operating, broadcaster NOS said. The Netherlands now has 85 restaurants with one star and 19 with two, thanks to newcomers Pure C in Cadzand and Sabero in Roermond. All three Dutch three-star restaurants - Inter Scaldes in Kruiningen in Zeeland, De Leest in Vaassen and De Librije in Zwolle – retain their top rating. Check out the interactive map  More >

Dutch 'radical Islamist' arrested in Spain

Police in Catalonia in Spain have arrested ‘radical Islamist’ and Dutch national Khalid Makran, Spanish newspaper El País reported on Monday. Makran, who has a criminal record, was detained after a tip-off by the intelligence services to the national police, the Guardia Civil and the Mossos d'Esquadra and was apprehended at an A7 motorway service station. The man had been last seen behaving ‘oddly’ and shouting Islamic slogans as he made his way to a police station in Salou, Tarragona, the paper said.   More >

Dutch MP makes Love Actually appeal

Dutch MP Kees Verhoeven has made an appeal in the style of the classic Christmas romantic comedy Love Actually, urging Britain to either stay in the European Union or back the Brexit deal. The video has gone down well in Britain, with the Independent describing it as 'perfect', despite the MP having to struggle with the cue cards in the wind. The signs - handwritten written in English - call for a good Brexit deal 'without yelling or arguments'. 'We would still be able to have a full English breakfast with Dutch tomatoes, beans, and bacon from Brabant,' reads one of the messages. Verhoeven, an MP for the Liberal democratic party D66, said earlier that European leaders should guarantee the rights of British and Dutch nationals alike ahead of Brexit. Dutch websites were less enamoured of Verhoeven's message, describing the video as 'toe-curling' and 'embarrassing'. De stemming over #Brexit is uitgesteld. @KeesVee belde daarom opnieuw aan bij Theresa May, met een duidelijke boodschap: kies voor deze deal of blijf in de EU. Geïnspireerd op misschien wel de meest romantische Kerstfilm aller tijden. 😉 #loveactually #makelovedontbrexit pic.twitter.com/T9EhbWatjp — D66 (@D66) December 11, 2018   More >

Gov't urged to regulate ecstasy production

The government should regulate the production of party drug ecstasy to remove it from the criminal circuit, GroenLinks parliamentarian Kathalijne Buitenweg says in Monday's Volkskrant. 'The government does not have to make the pills itself but should regulate production,' to make sure they meet proper quality standards, Buitenweg said. 'It is not just a question of health but a question of doing something about the worrying increase in criminal power,' she told the paper. The MP wants the government to take the initiative to revise UN drugs treaties, and points out that the World Health Organisation has also called for a revision of the way drugs are ranked as dangerous. 'We have to ask ourselves what the treaties have delivered,' she said. 'Has usage gone down. Is there less crime? I don't think so. Earlier this year, Amsterdam police chief Erik Akerboom said more should be done to counteract the ‘normalisation’ of drug use and that users are supporting violent crime. And justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus has warned that drugs money is being used to undermine the legal economy. Brabant The situation is particularly acute in the south of the country, in Noord-Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland. Last year, police broke up 127 drugs labs in Brabant and 57 in Limburg, compared with 136 in the rest of the country. Breda mayor Paul Depla also told the Volkskrant the government should take a stand. 'Give me one argument why alcohol is freely available and ecstasy is banned?' he said. 'I am only saying what experts say, that ecstasy is not as dangerous as alcohol.' Depla is at the forefront of local authority efforts to bring in regulated marijuana production in the Netherlands. Coalition Representatives of the four coalition parties later dismissed the call for regulated ecstasy production out of hand. 'It is as if you are talking about smarties, not drugs. It is dangerous stuff, ' VVD MP Antoinette Laan told the AD. While welcoming GroenLinks' input to try to solve the problem, Laan said that this is not an option. 'We want extra police manpower instead,' she said.  More >