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Animal welfare

The “preppy bandit” who rescues horses

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From a secret compound deep in Florida’s orange groves, “horsemeat vigilante” Richard Couto stages covert operations to bring down unlicensed slaughterhouses, says David Gauvey Herbert in Bloomberg. He has spent years undercover in a murky world of Cuban ex-convicts running open-air abattoirs and illegal cock-fighting rings – “the closest thing America has to a Wild West”. The police would love to work with him, if only he’d play by the rules.

There are plenty of places where horsemeat is a delicacy: you can eat horse tartare in Montreal, horse salami in Italy, horse sashimi in Japan. In the US, though, it’s been effectively banned since 2007. For many Cubans in Florida, it’s a staple they can’t do without, and some aren’t too worried about animal welfare. That’s something Couto cannot abide.

Brought up in “polo and khaki” Newport, Rhode Island – some call him the “preppy bandit” – Couto “bombed out” of corporate life, but ended up making good money flipping houses in Miami. Then he got bored. Now 50, he’s bald and powerfully built, with a white goatee, dressed in tactical gear and carrying a concealed handgun. His “command centre” in a 100-acre sanctuary for rescued horses is all white sofas, standing desks and Spanish tiles. A nearby outbuilding holds a cache of “pistols, tactical shotguns, and a 50-caliber rifle”. That might sound over the top, but Couto says in executing his missions, he has fled gunfire more than 20 times.

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