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In Los Angeles, Jereme James was caught in an undercover sting operation. His crime? Snatching three Fiji Island banded iguanas (Brachylophus fasciatus) from a nature preserve and attempting to sell them to an undercover U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent. James admitted to smuggling the iguanas by creating a special compartment in his prosthetic leg. He’s since been acquitted and is out on the streets today.
As for the snatched iguanas? They’ve been rescued by the San Diego Zoo Reptile House. According to zoo curator Kim Lovich, most seized animals live out their days in captivity; it can be very difficult to return an animal back to its original home.
This is one of James’s victims. While in the prosthetic leg compartment, this iguana’s leg was so badly injured, it had to be amputated.
Poaching rhinos, elephants, and other globally threatened species get most of the media attention for the illegal trade, and rightfully so. But the case of the smuggled endangered iguanas is just a glimpse into the diverse world of the exotic pet trade.
It seems that just about anything found in nature could have a black market price tag. Live crocodiles have been smuggled in duffle bags and brought on airplanes, overharvested Queen conch shells are stowaways, and even orchid smuggling is a thing.
To dive deeper, TechKnow visited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s property room, a morgue for seized exotic wildlife.
Some sell endangered species for their rare and exotic qualities, like an ivory totem or a python wallet. Others are captured and sold for pseudo-medicinal purposes. According to inspector Mike Osborn one of the hottest things on the market is this.
This is a bladder from the Totoaba, a critically endangered sea bass that can only be found in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. The demand for this specific organ is coming from over 8,000 miles away - Asia. Some people believe the bladder can improve circulation, skin vitality, and boost fertility. One bladder can net a poacher about $15,000 on the black market.
Inspectors like Osborn and undercover agents are doing what they can to intercept the sale of trafficked goods, but the major driver of this falls on the public and the escalating demand for exotic animals. An economic boom, superstition, celebrity, and dubious medicinal claims are all playing a role, encouraging conspicuous consumption in Asia. Education and crackdowns need to continue to help mitigate the global trade.
If they’re looking for beauty treatments and aphrodisiacs, perhaps airdropping Viagra, Advil, and Neutrogena skin care products could do the trick.