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Moscow court gives chimp thief 7.5 years in prison

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MOSCOW, May 22 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow's Basmanny District Court sentenced a man on Thursday to seven and a half years in prison for stealing a chimpanzee, a court spokeswoman said.

Ilya Khairulin, 22, along with two accomplices, stole a two-year-old chimpanzee male worth $15,000 from its owner, Dmitry Kozlov. His accomplices escaped, and have been convicted in absentia.

The thieves had planned to sell the animal to an acquaintance who keeps exotic animals at a private zoo in the Moscow Region.

The court was told that on April 1 last year Khairulin phoned Kozlov saying he wanted to buy his chimp. As chimpanzees are ranked as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, trading them is illegal.

Kozlov said he had agreed to the sale because of the animal's aggressive behavior, which made it difficult to keep the chimp at the family home.

On April 2 the gang waited for the owner near his house. When Kozlov approached, they forced him into a car, telling him they were environmental police officers investigating illegal trade in rare species. Kozlov was then forced to hand over the chimp, and warned not to tell the police.

Kozlov did notify police, and Khairulin was swiftly found and detained, as his phone number had been saved in the memory of Kozlov's cell phone. The chimpanzee was found later in a Moscow animal shelter.

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