1. Turtles and Snakes
(Image credit: Antara/Ismar Patrizki)Officials at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia saw shipping containers labeled "fresh fruit" bound for Hong Kong this past February. What they found inside were two tons of live reptiles! They seized 25 bags of Chinese rat snakes and 3,492 pig-nosed turtles. Export of these species from Indonesia is not illegal, but is regulated and the exporter apparently wanted to bypass quarantine laws. The snakes and turtles would most likely have been used to make soup and sex-enhancing drugs at their destination, according to officials.
A man traveling from Bulgaria arrived at the Dublin airport after changing planes in Madrid. He looked nervous, so inspectors in Ireland selected him for a spot check. When they x-rayed his hand luggage, the image of a dog showed up. Screeners thought it must be a toy or statue, as the dog was standing up. But when they opened the bag, they found a live chihuahua! The dog had been in a small cage inside the bag throughout the trip. The traveler had planned to give the chihuahua to a friend in Ireland as a gift, but intended to bypass quarantine laws. The dog was seized and placed in quarantine.
The Asian arowana, commonly called the dragon fish, is considered lucky in many Asian cultures. However, the species is on the endangered list and is illegal to sell or import. Some people will pay a thousand dollars for a small specimen, or up to $20,000 for a large adult, which can grow up to two feet long. A 2005 sting operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led to the arrest of Andree Gunawan on charges of smuggling and selling endangered wildlife from Indonesia. Gunawan and six other people were also recently indicted in connection with the case.
In April of last year, a man named Sony Dong was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for bringing in live songbirds from Vietnam. Dong had been under investigation for a year after airport official found an abandoned bag containing 18 birds, five of which had died. This time, customs official were waiting for him to arrive on a flight from Vietnam. Observing that Dong had bird droppings on his shoes, they found he had swaddled 14 Vietnamese songbirds in cloth and attached them to his lower legs under his pants. All the birds survived the trip. Dong pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months and ordered to pay $4,000 for the care of the birds.
An unnamed man traveling from Lima, Peru to New York City was questioned about the marmoset he had with him. Passengers on his final flight from Florida to New York noticed a monkey had crawled out from under the man's hat! Officials questioned the man on arrival and seized the monkey. It is not known how the marmoset had escaped detection at the airports in Peru and Florida. In another case, 28-year-old Gypsy Lawson was caught smuggling a rhesus macaque monkey from Thailand into the United States in 2007 by hiding the sedated monkey in her dress and pretending she was pregnant! Lawson and her mother, Fran Ogren, were convicted of violating the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws.
(Image credit: Kevork Djansezian)Smuggled live animals bring lots of money, but even dead species can be profitable if they are endangered and illegal to transport. For many years, Hisayoshi Kojima was king of the smuggled insect business, in which he shipped both live and dead insects both in and out of the US. Unscrupulous butterfly collectors would spend thousands of dollars for a specimen of the rare Queen Alexandra's birdwing from Papua New Guinea, which can have a wingspan of up to a foot. It is illegal to catch, kill, or import them. But Kojima found a way. It was a deal on the Queen Alexandra butterfly that ended a two-year undercover investigation into Kojima's illegal insect trade in 2006. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $38,731.
7. An Entire Zoo
In animal smuggling, the case of Robert Cusack stands head and shoulder above the rest. In 2002, Cusack was arrested as he landed in Los Angeles after a flight from Thailand. Customs Agents were suspicious after a bird of paradise flew out of his luggage. Three more birds were found in the suitcase. They asked Cusack if he had anything else to declare.
"I have monkeys in my pants," Cusack told the agents.
Cusack was found to have two pygmy slow lorises in his underwear. A further search found 50 rare orchids in his luggage. Cusack's companion on the flight, Chris Edward Mulloy, was later charged with smuggling two Asian leopard cat cubs in his luggage -four years later, for some reason. Cusack told authorities that the animals had originated in Indonesia, and he was taking them to a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica. Cusack later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 57 days in jail.
8. Fake Holy Water
Warren Maynard was arrested in 2008 as he crossed the US-Candian border in Lewiston, New York near Niagara Falls with a hundred bottles of a clear liquid found by drug-sniffing dogs. The 50-year-old man declared to customs officials that the bottles contained holy water, which he had bought in Canada along with other religious items. However, tests on the liquid found the animal tranquilizer ketamine, a hallucinogenic drug often used in date rape, in 42 of the bottles. Other bottles tested positive for "general narcotics". Maynard, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, was a citizen of Barbados with permanent residency status in the United States. He was turned over to immigration officials after his arrest.
A report published this month says that the global trade in illegal bushmeat, or meat from exotic wildlife, is stronger than ever. An estimated five tons of it passes through the main Paris airport every week. In June of 2008, researchers observed while travelers were searched after 29 different flights from Africa. Of 134 people searched, 83 were found with livestock or fish, and nine were found carrying bushmeat.
The people with bushmeat had the largest amounts: One passenger had 112 pounds (51 kilos) of bushmeat -- and no other luggage. Most of the bushmeat was smoked and arrived as dried carcasses. Some animals were identifiable, though scientists boiled the remains of others and reassembled the skeletons to determine the species.
Experts found 11 types of bushmeat including monkeys, large rats, crocodiles, small antelopes and pangolins, or anteaters. Almost 40 percent were listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The exotic species can be found on menus in Paris restaurants, if you know where to look and who to ask. Scientists warn that illegally imported meat may be spoiled or can spread disease.
10. Human Corpse
Gitta Jarant and her daughter Anke Anusic were taken into custody in April of this year after they tried to take the deceased body of Jarant's husband, 91-year-old Kurt Willi Jarant on a plane to Berlin. They brought the elderly man to the John Lennon Airport in Liverpool in a wheelchair. The women denied that he was dead and said he was just sleeping, although a post-mortem found he had been dead for around twelve hours. The women are suspected of trying to bypass laws governing the shipping of human bodies in order to take the man back to his home in Germany. Jarant and Anusic are free while awaiting trial for failure to report a death.
For strange historical smuggling stories, see: Sneaking Into Auschwitz, Mysterious Chinese Tunnels of the Pacific Northwest, and Escape Maps Hidden In Monopoly Pieces.