Crazy Animal Smuggling Stories


Chameleon hat:

Chameleon via

[Public Domain]

I’m sure you’ve experienced the angst of having to leave your pets behind while you do your globe-trotting. And I’m sure you’ve wished that there was a way you could take them with you. But how far would you really go to sneak your favourite darling onto the flight?

Whatever your answer, a 17 year old woman had you outdone in 2012. On her way from Dubai to Manchester, the traveler was noticed with a peculiar hat – one that appeared perfectly still, except for the occasional tongue flick.

As it commanded more and more attention from other travellers, airport staff came up to inspect the ‘unusual headgear.’ Upon closer examination, the ‘hat’ turned out to be a common chameleon – the woman seemed oblivious to the fact that her recently purchased pet was on the list of endangered species. Yet having failed to report the animal, and having hid it in plain sight, her innocence seems feigned.


Turtle in KFC burger:

Turtle by Daiju Azuma Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.5)

by Daiju Azuma / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

If you think the above woman wins the cake for the weirdest pet-smuggling attempt, think again. A man was caught at the Guangzhou airport in China, trying to sneak in his pet turtle in a KFC burger. A KFC burger.

The X-ray machine picked up on the curiously turtle-shaped burger hidden in Mr. Lee’s bag, and he was even given a chance to confess when customs asked him about any interesting items in his carry-on. Despite his claims of innocence, he was found out – Mr. Lee had to hand over the mayonnaise-smeared turtle to his friend, and continued his journey alone.


This was not the only time turtles were concealed as food. Malaysian authorities have confiscated 800 turtles and 160 protected snakes concealed within 2.3 tons of garlic! Luckily, the animals were found and returned to the jungle, although no efforts were made to remedy their garlic breath.


94 kilograms of dried caterpillars:

Mopane worms by Arne Larson This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

by Arne Larson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Unfortunately, not all cheeky attempts at smuggling animals were for the love of pets. While some people only disguise exotic animals as food, others fully intend to use them as such – caterpillar snacks, anyone?

A 22-year old traveling from Burkina Faso was caught with a whopping 94 kilograms (207 lbs) of dried mopane worms. These larvae of emperor moths are apparently eaten throughout Africa, and this particular traveler claimed that his haul of a grown man’s weight in dried caterpillars, was for personal consumption. In case you are wondering what that would be worth, here is an exempt from the Telegraph:

The online retailer Firebox offers 40g bags of mopane worms for £16.99, saying that they have three times the protein of beef. At that price, the insect haul would have been worth £40,000.


15 kilograms of live caterpillar snacks:

Caterpillars with onions By ComQuat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

by ComQuat / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

It might surprise you that there’s been more than one person caught trying to smuggle caterpillar munchables. What for one man is an opportunity to make a whole lot of money, for another it is a way to satisfy an addiction.

A man travelling through Switzerland was caught with a much more reasonable 15 kilograms of caterpillars, although his were still alive. The 47-year old went to great lengths to conceal them under a false bottom in his suitcase, and even when his snacks got discovered by an X-ray machine, he tried to claim that they were some sort of root.

Since the caterpillars were still moving, customs didn’t really believe his story. The man claimed that he was addicted to this snack, and as the airport staff took away the wriggling mass of caterpillars, he panicked and stuffed as many of them as he could into his mouth


Giant live snails:

Giant Snails By Antoshananarivo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

by Antoshananarivo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Speaking of wiggly, slimy edibles: 36 live snails, each about 15cm in length, were found in a Nigerian passenger’s luggage in Amsterdam. He claimed they were intended for use as food, but in the absence of a proper import license, the massive mollusks were confiscated.

And of course, that wasn’t the only time that happened. Another 67 giant African snails were seized at the Los Angeles International Airport. They were also intended for human consumption, and were casually being sent to a couple guys in San Dimas.

These snails can grow up to 8 inches long, and the concern with their import is not just food-related. Apparently they can be quite the threat, carrying parasites that are harmful to humans, and eating any kind of crop they can slime on to.


200 tarantulas:

Tarantula via

[Public Domain]

Since you’re losing your appetite anyway, let us make it even worse for you. You know we just can’t pass up the opportunity to play out your worst nightmare, so here it is, a suitcase of 200 poisonous tarantulas exploding all over the place.

Just kidding, they didn’t actually explode – more like crawled out - as we’re sure that the staff at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport kept it super professional. But, the adventurous German couple’s suitcase did also include “an assortment of other insects including bugs, crickets, grasshoppers and millipedes," luckily contained in plastic tubes.



Tropical fish via

[Public Domain]

If checked luggage no longer seems like a safe place to hide animal imports, you might choose to keep them a little closer to you. At least that’s what one woman thought, traveling from Singapore to Melbourne.

As she walked through customs, she was making suspicious flipping and sloshing noises. Upon closer examination, airport staff found 51 live tropical fish, in plastic bags, hidden under her clothes. The woman was wearing a specially-made apron under her skirt, with pockets to conceal the wildlife. 


Animals in the pants:

Hummingbird via

[Public Domain]

If you think even a sloshy skirt is too risky, how about keeping the contraband in your pants?

A man travelling from Guangzhou’s International Airport to Singapore had a much better reason for smuggling a couple animals: when two small birds were found attached to each of his ankles, he said that he was trying to save them from the polluted Chinese skies. Although China’s Prime Minister may agree with the traveler’s take on pollution, the airport officials remained unsympathetic. 

Another man was found with two live pigeons in his tights, and yet another one with a dozen live hummingbirds in his underwear, although their reasons may not be so noble.

Other animals found in pants and underpants also include loris monkeys, pygmy monkeys, three small turtles, and even seven snakes



Hallodapus By Edward Saunders [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

All of the above passengers knew that they were attempting to bring in the animals, although some seemed clueless about the legal guidelines. But sometimes, passengers are not even aware of their personal items containing a threat to national security.

In 2009, employees of the Newark Airport, New Jersey, found a Hallodapus bug in a bunch of thyme. Coming from Israel, the bug has never been seen in the U.S. before. Before you roll your eyes at the possibility that a teeny-tiny bug would pose such a threat, hallodapus turns out to be a "quarantine pest," and  apparently could have caused trillions of dollars in agricultural damage, had it been missed. 


Now that you’ve seen a bunch of ridiculous animal-smuggling attempts, we’d like to add a very serious disclaimer. All jokes aside, wildlife smuggling is a very serious global issue with various adverse consequences, not to mention being severely punishable by law.

The above cases all ended well – most of the time, the confiscated animals are handled by professionals and checked for any parasites, diseases, etc. Depending on their health and current condition, they may be further examined and treated by vets, transported to zoos or care-centers for rehabilitation, or even released back into the wild. However, a big chunk of wildlife-smuggling attempts are not as humorous, at the very least harming the animals being transported. Unexamined wildlife may harm crops, decimate local fauna, and bring diseases to humans and animals alike.

For more information on transporting live animals, check out the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and if you must travel with live animals, don’t forget to double-check specific guidelines with your airline. 

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