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Smuggled Iguanas Returned Home From Heathrow

Friday 11th July 2014

Twelve critically endangered iguanas - seized from Romanian smugglers at Heathrow Airport - have been returned to their native Bahamas.

Iguana in sock

The reptiles were discovered individually wrapped in socks and stuffed into suitcases by Border Force staff carrying out customs checks in February.

Thirteen were rescued, but one was found to have died in transit. They were identified as San Salvador rock iguanas, a species so rare that only a few hundred are known to be in existence.

This week the iguanas were taken from the City of London Corporation's Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow to board a British Airways flight to Nassau.

IAG Cargo arranged complimentary carriage of the iguanas to fly them back to the Bahamas on a British Airways flight. As the species is so incredibly rare, special dispensation was given to
carry them in the main cabin of the aircraft. They were accompanied by two Border Force officers.

The iguanas on a plane

They have now been transported to a government research station on the island of San Salvador where they will be monitored by experts, with the eventual aim of retuning them to the wild.

Border Force takes its role in preventing illegal wildlife trafficking very seriously and with this particular species being so critically endangered it was an incredibly significant seizure in conservation terms," Grant Miller, head of the Border Force CITES team, said.

"We were in contact with the Bahamas High Commission in London from an early stage and straight away it became clear that getting them back to their natural habitat was going to be really important.

Arranging the repatriation of such rare animals is complex and sensitive, but I’m delighted that through our close work with the Bahamian authorities, ritish Airways, the City of London Corporation and other partners we have succeeded.

"Not only has Border Force made sure that the criminals responsible for smuggling these animals are behind bars, we’re also proud to have been able to play a part in safeguarding the future of this species."

One of the iguanas

Two women, aged 24 and 26 at the time and both Romanian nationals, were each jailed for 12 months for smuggling after an investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).


The British Airways flight BA253 to Nassau was flown by Captain Al Matthews, who said:


“Naturally, all of our customers are special, but despite having flown Prime Ministers and members of the Royal Family, these iguanas are by far the most unusual.


“You don't expect to share your cabin with incredibly rare reptiles. However, I can confirm all the iguanas were securely stored throughout the flight and had the
most comfortable journey possible.”


Robbie Marsland, UK Director of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said:


“With wildlife crime having such a devastating impact on many endangered animals, this is an excellent demonstration of successful enforcement work by Border Force
and the NCA.


“We are pleased that the criminals involved have been brought to justice and that these critically endangered animals have been returned home to live out their lives
in their natural habitat. Wildlife belongs in the wild.”


Border Force is responsible for frontline detection and seizure duties on the illegal trade in endangered animals and plants which is covered by the
CITES convention. The convention covers more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens or as derivatives.


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.


Anyone with information about activity they suspect may be linked to smuggling should call our hotline on 0800 59 5000.