A man was arrested on Monday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia for trying to smuggle endangered snakes. Apparently the buckle on his baggage broke and the bag burst forth an enormous pile of reptiles comprised of 95 endangered boa constrictors and several non-endangered snakes and turtles. It's those boas that led to the arrest, since it is illegal to export endangered species without a permit.
According to National Geographic, this isn't the first offense for the smuggler. In fact, the owner of the snake-filled bag, Anson Wong, is considered by many to be a kingpin in the global wildlife smuggling underworld. Bryan Christy at NG writes, "From the island of Penang, Wong operates one of the world's largest legal reptile supply companies, which he has used in the past as a front to smuggle critically endangered wildlife from Australia, China, Madagascar, New Zealand, South America, and elsewhere. His offerings have included snow leopard pelts, panda bear skins, rhino horn, rare birds, and Komodo dragons."
Wong was arrested in 1990 as part of a five-year sting operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, and did time in prison until being released in 2003. This latest arrest earned him six months in jail and a $61,000 fine. Christy writes that police also seized Wong's laptop and cell phone, which could help authorities crack open other smuggling operations.
Wildlife smuggling is a widespread problem because it's relatively easy to pull off. Christy explains that "wildlife trafficking may be the world's most profitable form of transnational organized crime. The reason is not money alone, although the profit margins can be spectacular. The reason is the low risk: When it comes to wildlife trafficking, there is little chance of getting caught. Around the world, law enforcement dedicated to wildlife smuggling is woefully undermanned and underfunded. And even when smugglers are caught, the most common penalty they face is a fine, often no larger than a parking ticket."
This latest arrest, Christy says, is a hopeful sign that law enforcement around the world is beginning to catch up to the smuggling trade.