BRASILIA (Reuters) - The skinned and salted corpses of about 740 alligators have been found in a nature reserve in Brazil's Amazon jungle, apparently destined to be served up as lunch in restaurants.
About 8 tons of dried alligator corpses were discovered in the Piagacu-Purus reserve with the skins, usually the most valuable part of the animal, likely dumped in rivers, the Amazonas state environmental protection agency said.
The meat was to be sold for human consumption in neighboring Para state.
It was found on the premises of four local merchants who operate stores on floating houses typical in the region, some 190 miles west of the Amazonas state capital, Manaus.
"We were surprised and shocked," Aldenira Queiroz, an agency director, told Reuters by telephone from Manaus. "This indicates a large-scale commercial operation."
He said the dried corpses will now probably be incinerated.
Flooding in recent weeks has made fishing difficult and prompted locals to hunt alligators, which they use in barter trade for beans and rice, Queiroz said.
River dwellers are permitted to kill a limited number of alligators for their own subsistence but selling them is prohibited.
Some experts warn of an alligator overpopulation in certain areas and environmentalists claim the reserve is a favorite hunting ground for local politicians and wealthy businessmen.
(Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Kieran Murray)