Two women have been sentenced to a year in jail after 13 endangered iguanas were seized at Heathrow. Romanian nationals Angla-Alina Bita, 26, and Vitora-Oliva Bucsa, 24, had arrived on a flight from the Bahamas and were due to fly on to Dusseldorf, Germany when iguanas were discovered in their luggage. Each iguana had been individually wrapped in a sock before being stuffed into suitcases. Twelve survived their journey but one died in transit.
The iguanas were identified as San Salvador rock iguanas, a species so rare that only a few hundred are known to be in existence. As such they are controlled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
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.”
Following their discovery the iguanas were extremely dehydrated and have since been given specialist care by experts in the UK, with the long term aim of returning them to their natural habitat in the Caribbean.
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.”