Bizarre Exotic Animal Smuggling - In Pants?


Photo Credit: Transportation Security Administration

In the age of heightened airport security, TSA agents won’t even clear a 4-ounce bottle of hairspray, but some people seem to think they can sneak aboard snakes and parrots without even a peep from security. Well, not exactly. Within days of each other, the TSA reported two incidents involving wildlife trafficking in the U.S.

On Aug. 26, at the Los Angeles International Airport, a woman attempting to board a China-bound plane was arrested for smuggling two parrots. TSA performed a pat down search on the woman and found the birds wrapped in tube socks, tapped to her chest. According to a release from the TSA, the woman was arrested by Fish and Wildlife Service officers and charged with smuggling goods and the exportation of an endangered species.

The woman’s parrot peddling was just one day after a potential “Snakes on a Plane” incident, according to a TSA report. On Aug. 25, at Miami International Airport, one passenger thought he could get away with some scaly, carry-on luggage. The male passenger, traveling from Brazil, attempted to board a flight with seven reptiles stuffed in his pants. The man was caught by the TSA after he walked through an Advanced Imaging Technology screening machine and security officers discovered some suspicious items. When TSA agents screened the man even further, they uncovered seven exotic snakes and three tortoises wrapped in nylons, stuffed in his pants. The man was arrested by Fish and Wildlife Service officers on a federal charge of violating the Lacey Act, prohibiting unlawful transport of fish, wildlife and plants.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time a man took cues from Samuel L. Jackson; in 2009, a 22-year-old Norwegian man was caught with 14 pythons tapped to his chest and ten lizards strapped to his legs.

These trafficking incidents are nothing new for TSA agents, shocking – yes, but apparently people all over the world continue to smuggle wildlife in bizarre ways.

A woman in Thailand was caught with a drugged 2-month-old tiger cub in her checked luggage in August 2010. While one month prior to the tiger incident, a man was detained in Mexico City’s international airport caught with 18 endangered monkeys in a girdle strapped to his body.

The global export of wild plants and animals is a business with an estimated value of more than $300 billion as of 2005, according to TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network. From 1995-1999, CITIES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, documented an annual average of internationally traded species at more than 1.5 million live birds, 640,000 live reptiles, 300,000 crocodilian skins, 1.6 million lizard skins, 1.1 million snake skins, 150,000 furs, almost 300 tonnes of caviar, more than 1 million coral pieces and 21,000 hunting trophies.

Although accurate information pertaining to illegal trafficking of exotic animals is nearly impossible to obtain, TRAFFIC estimates that figures are close to hundreds of millions of dollars – possibly billions.

In the meantime, TSA will just need to continuously employ ultra-sensitive security measures, screening for illegal substances, oversized aerosol cans and the occasional reptile.

Posted by Christina Miralla on Sep 12, 2011

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