2 Romanian women who were caught trying to smuggle 13 endangered iguanas through Heathrow airport have been jailed for 12 months. The women were caught during border checks at Terminal 5 on 3rd February. The discovery was made as the women transferred from their Bahamas flight to their connection to Dosseldorf in Germany.
Border Force officers found the 13 iguanas stuffed in socks in suitcases. 12 of the reptiles had survived while 1 had died during transit. Romanian nationals Angla-Alina Bita, 26, and Vitora-Oliva Bucsa, 24, were arrested by officers.
The iguanas were identified as San Salvador rock iguanas and only a few hundred of them now remain in the wild.
They appeared in court on Thursday 3rd April at Isleworth Crown Court when they pleaded guilty to trafficking in endangered species covered by CITES regulations. The judge jailed them for 12 months.
Grant Miller, head of the Border Force CITES team, said: “The rarity of this particular species made this an incredibly significant seizure. The iguanas are critically endangered and in effect priceless.
“This makes it all the more shocking that someone was willing to take them from their habitat and transport them halfway around the world in these kinds of conditions.
“We are now working with the Bahamian authorities to try to return them to where they belong.”
The Heathrow-based Border Force CITES team are specialist officers who work closely with the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), NCA and police to provide expert advice on border operational issues. They are recognised as world leaders in their field.
Sarah Goddard, species policy officer for WWF-UK, said: “At a time that criminal gangs are threatening the very future existence of some of our most precious animals, it is good to see UK authorities clamping down on the traffickers posing a serious threat to the survival of endangered species such as these iguanas.
“WWF welcomes the co-ordinated enforcement efforts from the Border Force and National Crime Agency in bringing these criminals to justice and for playing such a vital role in preventing this trade worldwide. These convictions are a victory for all those fighting wildlife crime.”