Customs officials at Chennai airport were astounded when they seized nearly two dozen animals that had been smuggled in a man's checked luggage.
The reported smuggler snuck 15 kingsnakes, five ball pythons, two aldabra tortoises and one De Brazza monkey in boxes in his checked luggage on a flight from Bangkok, which officials discovered after a tip-off alerted them to the possible smuggling plan.
The animals were given a once-over to make sure they were healthy before they were deported back to Thailand on a Thai Airlines flight.
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K R Uday Bhaskar, principal commissioner at Chennai Customs, said: “[The animals] were sent back because they will find it difficult to survive here."
Meanwhile the man who had attempted to bring in the contrabanded animals was identified in local media as Mohammed Shahiel, an Indian national who claimed a stranger had given him the bag and told him to hand it to a man when he reached Chennai.
While he wasn't carrying a license from India's AQCS (Animal Quarantine and Certification Services) which would have permitted the import, Shahiel was not arrested.
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Customs officials are still on the lookout for the man Shahiel was supposed to give the animals to when he arrived in India, but haven't made any arrests yet.
This is the second time this year that illegally-imported animals from Thailand have been seized in India – the previous incident took place in May.
No arrests were made in that case either.
Officials and local media have speculated that this might mean the illegal pet trade is gathering steam again, after it took a hit during the pandemic due to travel restrictions.
But even in spite of the pandemic, the industry has always been a major money-maker, with the illegal exotic pet trade estimated to be worth up to $23 billion a year.
A survey conducted by the Born Free foundation estimated that in 2020 were about 4,000 'wild' animals being kept legally in the UK including venomous snakes and big cats.
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