VIENNA, Austria — Customs officials at the Vienna International Airport arrested a person smuggling 74 protected species of chameleons stuffed into socks and ice cream boxes in a suitcase.
The man, who was initially traveling from Tanzania via the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, tried to hide the lizards in his luggage but was caught after his suitcase was scanned.
“They are exclusively chameleons from the Usambara Mountains, a currently very rainy and cool region in Tanzania,” said Anton Weissenbacher, an expert on reptiles and zoological department head at Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Zoo.
Officials managed to find 74 protected species of chameleons, whose value in the black market is around €37,000 ($44,894). They have not revealed the identity of the accused, but have arrested him.
“The animals have to be kept at a high level of humidity, but at the same time airy and cool,” said Weissenbacher when he unpacked the reptiles with his team of zookeepers and examined them.
The chameleons, including a one-week-old, are said to be in good shape and now living in proper terrariums where environmental conditions are provided to meet their needs.
Zoo experts claimed the chameleons belonged to the Usambara Mountains, and were smuggled for an illegal trade at the Czech black market.
“Three animals were dead on arrival and others in relatively good condition. They are young animals from around a week old to adult chameleons.”
The suspect is now facing criminal proceedings and a fine of up to €6,000 ($7,280).
Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel said in a statement that he is “happy that the customs officers could contribute to ending animal suffering and support animal welfare including supporting the preservation of rare species such as these”.
International Union For Conservation of Nature’ Species Survival Commission Chameleon Specialist Group has put up the pictures of retrieved reptiles on its Facebook page.
According to the group, the rescued species included Kinyongia Matschiei (endangered), Rhampholeon Acuminatus (critically endangered), Rh. Viridis (endangered), Rieppeleon Kerstenii (least concern), Trioceros Dermensis (least concern), T. Laterispinis (endangered
“Harvesting of chameleons from the East Usambara Mountains of Tanzania for the exotic pet trade is of concern due to the high rates of habitat loss in this region and the fact that many of the species are endemic or near-endemic to this isolated montane forest,” states a report published in Herpetological Conservation and Biology journal.
According to the report, Tanzanian chameleons, except the pygmy chameleons, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
There are over 180 species of chameleons across the globe. Their size varies from 0.75–28 inches.
Illegal wildlife trade pushes endangered species towards extinction disturbing the ecological balance.
(Edited by Megha Virendra Choudhary and Saptak Datta.)
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