Wildlife smuggling remains to be one of the most lucrative illegal business worldwide even today, with wildlife smuggling transactions generating Billions of US Dollars annually. The USA customs alone seize over $10 million worth of illegal wildlife each year, but that only scratches the surface. Indochina remains the worldwide hub of this criminal and felonious activity. Here are some very weird ways in which people have tried to smuggle in wildlife in the past.
In 2002, a man returning to USA from Bangkok was caught hiding two endangered pygmy monkeys, called slow lorises (Nycticebus spp.), in his underwear. When customs officials opened up his luggage, a bird of paradise (Paradisaeidae spp.) flew out. He was also traveling with 50 rare orchids. Highly suspicious, officials checked him thoroughly, when monkeys were found out.
Customs officials in Melbourne, Australia, stopped a woman who had arrived from Singapore In 2005, after hearing mysterious “flipping” noises coming from around her waist. They found an apron under her skirt designed with pockets holding 15 plastic bags filled with water and 51 tropical fish.
A crocodile was smuggled on board a domestic flight in 2010 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The reptile escaped from a duffel bag in the cabin and panicked the passengers and crew, which resulted in the plane crash that killed 20 of 21 passengers. According to the sole human survivor, the crocodile actually survived the crash but was later killed.
A salesman of exotic animals tried to to transport 247 reptiles and spiders to Spain, but failed when x-ray technicians caught him in Argentina in 2011. The exotic and endangered species included boa constrictors, poisonous pit vipers, and spiders. They were packed inside plastic containers, bags, and socks.
Also in 2011, a man from United Arab Emirates, was caught trying to smuggle two leopards and two panthers as well as an Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys, packed into his luggage at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. All animals were less than two months old, and had been drugged for the journey. Some of them were stored in flat cages, while others were placed in canisters with air holes.
A Vietnamese man, travelling from Australia to New Zealand last week, now joins the rank of these infamous crooks. When this man walked through customs at Auckland airport in New Zealand, officials suspected something was fishy, because liquid was seeping from the bulging pockets of his cargo pants.
When asked to explain, the man initially said that he was carrying water from the plane because he was thirsty. Obviously no one believed him and he was grilled. During examination it was found that his dripping pockets contained live fish. The man was found to carry seven fish, all an unidentified species of Cichlid. He had secretly hidden them in two plastic bags in his pockets. The man told the customs that he was carrying the fish for his friend.
New Zealand authorities say that the man will face charges under the Biosecurity Act, which carries maximum penalties of five years’ jail or a NZ$100,000 ( US$78,000) fine. They feel that this appears to be a deliberate attempt to smuggle fish into the country without any consideration of the biosecurity risk involved, something that is taken very seriously.
My feeling is that the punishment is to soft as a deterrent, and he deserves a much harsher punishment including a jail term.
(First published in Akshardhool on 2nd September 2013)