Snakes on a Plane: 95 Boas Smuggled on Flight

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Apparently there really are snakes on a plane. A Malaysian man known as the "Lizard King" was arrested on Aug. 26 after trying to smuggle 95 live boa constrictors out of the country.

Anson Wong was only caught after the suitcase containing the snakes broke open on a baggage carousel in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Wong had been on a flight from the northern resort island of Penang and was heading to Indonesia.

Wong, 52, also had two vipers and a turtle hidden in containers and wrapped in cloth inside his bag.

Earlier this week, a court fined him $60,000 and sentenced him to six months in prison. But now Malaysian prosecutors are appealing, saying the fine isn't enough to deter future trafficking.

Wong's nickname of the "Lizard King" comes from his long history as a smuggler of exotic animals. In 2001, a U.S. court sentenced him to almost six years in prison for running an animal-smuggling ring that prosecutors said imported and sold more than 300 protected reptiles native to Asia and Africa. Wong was also arrested in Mexico in 1998.

In Malaysia, Wong faced a maximum jail term of seven years and up to $319 million in fines. Wildlife groups said that the judge's sentence is too lenient.

"We are disappointed. The sentence is too lenient for someone who is smuggling out protected species," Abdul Majid Hamzah, prosecution chief at the attorney-general's chambers, told The Associated Press. "We cannot take this lightly as it reflects very badly on Malaysia."

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Wong's arrest is just the latest in a recent string of smuggling arrests. A few weeks ago, a Thai woman was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle a baby tiger cub out of Thailand in her checked luggage.

Animal Smugglers Caught at Airport

Thai authorities first knew something was amiss when the woman checked in for her flight from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport to Iran. She was acting suspiciously and, while the bag wasn't moving, it sure looked oversized. So airport employees X-rayed the suitcase.

Hidden among stuffed toy tigers was a 2-month-old real tiger cub that had been drugged.

The woman, identified as Piyawan Palasarn, 31, was arrested and the cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center in Bangkok. Palasarn faces up to four years in prison and a $1,300 fine for two wildlife smuggling-related charges.

A Peruvian man was arrested in July in Mexico City after trying to smuggle 18 small endangered monkeys under his clothing.

And a German man stuffed 44 small lizards in his underwear earlier this year before trying to board a flight home from New Zealand.

Smuggling animals is a risky business but can reap large rewards for the traffickers.

The baby cub that Palasarn allegedly tried to take to Iran could have fetched up to $3,200 on the black market, wildlife experts say. Exotic pets are popular in Iran.

The international trade in endangered species is a bit overwhelming. An annual average of 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 and 150,000 furs were illegally transported from 1995 to 1999, according to the wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC.

"If people are trying to smuggle live tigers in their check-in luggage, they obviously think wildlife smuggling is something easy to get away with and do not fear reprimand," Chris R. Shepherd, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia's deputy regional director, recent said. "Only sustained pressure on wildlife traffickers and serious penalties can change that."