It’s not unusual to get backed up going through airport securitybecause someone has liquids in their carry-on, but it is unusual when the hold-up is due to snakes, tortoises and birds concealed in cringe-worthy places. These animals were all recent issues at both the Los Angeles International Airport and the Miami International Airport.
In Los Angeles on Monday, a China-bound woman was stopped in security due to bulky clothing. After a pat-down, Transportation Security Administration agents found two birds wrapped in socks and taped to the woman’s leg and chest. She was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers on suspicion of smuggling and exporting an endangered species out of the United States.
At least one of the birds was an endangered Golden Parakeet, a species of endangered tropical parrot, according to Richard Thomas, the global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, an organization that monitors wildlife trade.
Thomas said that endangered parrots can be worth “tens of thousands of dollars,” and that the organization is “wary” of specifying the worth of the animals for fear of encouraging others to attempt to smuggle them.
Last Thursday, a man traveling to Brazil from Miami was caught attempting to get through security with seven small snakes and three small turtles in his pants. All of the animals were stored in women’s hosiery. He was also arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who took custody of the animals.
The TSA addressed the attempted breaches with humor, posting a TSA blog entry titled, “Snakes On A Plane! And Turtles & Birds, Oh My!!! Almost…”
“TSA’s mission of course is not to find artfully concealed wildlife, but items taped to a passenger’s body could very well be explosives or some other dangerous prohibited item,” wrote “Blogger Bob” of the TSA Blog Team. “We just don’t know until we check it out.”
Earlier this year, two men were arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport for attempting to smuggle 55 turtles into the country. The turtles were hidden in snack food boxes inside of a carry-on. <!– page –>
These incidents aren’t just happening in the United States.
From Malaysia to Mexico, animal smuggling through airports has been a recurring issue. In Malaysia, a man known as the “Lizard King” due to his long history of animal-smuggling was arrested in September with 95 boa constrictors, two vipers and a turtle in his bag.
In Thailand, a woman was caught allegedly trying to smuggle a baby tiger cub out of the country. She had a drugged 2-month-old cub hidden among stuffed tigers in her bag.
And in Mexico, airport security found 18 small endangered monkeys under a man’s clothing.
“Indications are that [animal smuggling] is something that does seems to be happening more frequently,” Thomas said. “But it’s difficult to get a handle on whether it’s a growing problem or whether it’s better enforcement we’re seeing.”
Thomas stresses that security checks have gotten stricter and strongly discourages people from attempting smuggling operations.
“It’s clearly threatening the world’s wildlife, which is a global resource, and shouldn’t be squandered by illicit trade,” Thomas said.