I’m not saying you should stare at the crotch of the guy sitting next to you on a plane. But if something starts moving, I’d definitely be suspicious.
What’s this? Has Jessica lost her mind? you might ask.
Hey, don’t even go there. It’s not what you’re thinking. I’m talking about wildlife smuggling.
Why would someone do that? would be the next logical question.
Here’s a multiple-choice answer. Take your pick.
a. Because most animals are cute
b. You have some extra room in your luggage
c. You can make a lot of money and rarely get caught.
You think I’m kidding? According to Interpol, worldwide sales of smuggled wildlife is estimated to be anywhere from ten to twenty billion dollars a year. And the ways in which wildlife is smuggled are mind-boggling.
For instance, take the Thai woman recently arrested for drugging and stuffing a live two-month old tiger cub in her suitcase. Her ruse was to lay it beside a stuffed toy tiger as a decoy. She was allegedly taking it to Iran where it could fetch up to $3,200 on the black market.
Or, how about the 22-year old Norwegian stopped by customs officials because his entire body was in constant motion. It’s no wonder. They found 14 snakes taped to his torso when he dropped his pants, along with ten albino leopard geckos that were attached to his legs.
A woman was arrested in Sweden after customs officials watched her repeatedly scratching her chest. Either she had one heck of a bad rash or something strange was going on. That question was answered when 75 live snakes were found in her bra.
You can’t make this stuff up.
How about the guy who smuggled 3 endangered iguanas from Fiji into the U.S. inside his prosthetic leg? Or the woman who hid sedated birds under her skirt as she rode through the airport in a wheelchair? When the birds woke up, her skirt began to furiously flap.
That reminds me of the woman who was stopped as she got off a plane from Singapore. Customs officials grew suspicious when “flipping” noises were heard coming from under her skirt. They found a specially designed apron containing 15 plastic water-filled bags of fish with a street value of $30,000.
Not original enough? Then you’ll love this one. An American woman hid a drugged rhesus monkey under her blouse on a flight from Thailand to the U.S. How did she do it? By claiming to be pregnant. She actually got away with it until she bragged about her exploits to the wrong person.
Ready for a few more?
A Palm Springs man was arrested for smuggling 2 Asian leopard cats in his backpack through L.A. International Airport. Things really went awry when 2 large birds of paradise flew out of his travel companion’s luggage. But that was nothing compared to the 2 pygmy monkeys that were also stuffed inside this guy’s underwear. Did I happen to mention that he was wearing those very underpants at the time?
A German collector was jailed after trying to board a plane in New Zealand with 24 geckos and 20 skinks hidden in a hand-sewn pouch in his underwear. The geckos had a street value of around $35,850 while the black market value of the skinks remains unknown.
What is it with guys trying to hide things in their underpants? Never mind. I don’t want to know.
Forty Cuban finches were discovered in hair rollers taped to a man’s legs while another traveler was caught with 14 live songbirds in his trousers. The give-away was the bird droppings on his socks, along with the tail feathers sticking out of the bottom of his pants.
Yet another man tried to board a plane in Brazil carrying two suitcases filled with more than 1,000 live spiders. Equally brazen was a tourist on a flight from Peru with a marmoset hidden under his hat. It escaped and perched on his ponytail. Fellow passengers politely asked if he knew that he had a monkey on his head?
The stories go on and on. Who’s crazy enough to do this sort of thing? Everyone from doctors and grad students, to amateur collectors and sophisticated crime rings. There was even a missionary who financed his ministry in Peru by sneaking snakes into Miami. And that’s not taking into account other smuggled items such as elephant tusks, sea turtle eggs, bear bile and rare butterflies.
How is this possible? It’s incredibly easy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is chronically underfunded. There simply aren’t enough inspectors and agents to handle the job. “Anything that walks, crawls, or swims has a price on its head,” said a former FWS agent. As a result, the world is being wiped clean of its inhabitants. That’s not something poachers and smugglers are concerned about. All the better if they’re driving a species to extinction. It only makes their value go up, leaving the rest of us that much poorer.