Vienna, 11.03.2017 Venomous snakes, rare tortoises and more found in luggage Austrian customs uncovers well-organized animal smuggling at Vienna Airport

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On Saturday, 11 March 2017, an extraordinary seizure operation took place amid the flow of arrivals at Vienna Airport. Thanks to a comprehensive risk analysis and subsequent check by customs authorities at Vienna Airport, it was possible to successfully put a stop to an animal smuggler's game.  

A Czech passenger who had travelled from South Africa via Madrid to Vienna was found to be carrying 17 plastic containers of live animals in his luggage. They consisted of almost 80 reptiles, including tortoises, chameleons, geckos, lizards and snakes.

Among the snakes was a black mambo, which is known to be highly poisonous, and is Africa's longest venomous snake. However, a number of the confiscated animals were not only highly venomous, but also highly-endangered rare species.

"This seizure underlines the importance of the work undertaken by the Austrian Customs Administration in its efforts to combat the illegal trade in rare species," declared Stefan Fleischhacker, head of the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport, in praise of the highly-professional work undertaken by his colleagues.

Suspicions were raised on the part of employees at Vienna Airport by an x-ray image on which boxes could be identified which were presumed to contain animals. During the subsequent detailed check, this suspicion turned into a shocking certainty. Alongside the detection dog, Reno, specially trained to locate rare animal species, the border veterinary inspector and a member of staff from Schönbrunn Zoo were also in attendance. 

Once the luggage had been opened, several packages of meat products were found, which were presumably intended to mislead the detection dog. The traveller, who initially denied any criminal action, subsequently admitted to carrying rare and venomous animals in his luggage.

Based on the professional manner of packaging, the number of animals and precise species knowledge on the part of the traveller, this is not likely to have been a chance purchase, but rather a well-organized smuggling operation. There are indications to suggest that particular species were assembled in a very targeted manner and that consideration was given to achieving a gender ratio as required by the "end customer".

The animals were examined by an employee of Schönbrunn Zoo, the attending veterinary inspector, and the customs officer, and then taken to either Schönbrunn Zoo or the Forchtenstein Reptile Zoo, so that they could be accurately quantified and their species determined, as well as to ensure appropriate accommodation. Faecal samples are currently being examined to check for disease or parasite infestation.

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