With today’s ultra-strict airport security, it’s hard to imagine slipping a full-size bottle of shampoo past TSA officials, let alone 75 live snakes or 164 spiders—as some of the epic smugglers below have tried. Lured by promises of big bucks on the black market, many people risk heavy fines and jail time to illegally bring home exotic, often endangered, animals to sell. But there are the elite few who, thanks to the sheer amount of booty, shoddy transportation method or bizarre contraband, have topped our list for the strangest smugglers ever.
2 Monkeys, 2 Leopard Cubs, 7 Birds of Paradise and 50 Orchids
“I’ve got monkeys in my pants” is not something airport customs agents hear every day. But it’s exactly the response Los Angeles International Airport officials received in 2002 when they asked Robert Cusack if he had anything else to declare after uncovering four birds of paradise in his bag (they later discovered two more birds and 50 orchids in his luggage). His traveling companion Chris Edward Mulloy––who had two newborn Asian leopards in his backpack––fled the scene during the commotion. Cusack ended up serving about 6 months in prison for smuggling; his buddy was eventually tracked down and arrested four years later. Allegedly the two were trying to set up an animal sanctuary in Costa Rica. Photo by Shutterstock.
In an effort to star in her very own reenactment of the horror flick Snakes on a Plane, a woman traveling to Stockholm tried to slip past security with 75 live, slithering snakes in her bra. Officers were tipped off to her cargo when they spotted the woman repeatedly scratching her chest. Creepy! Photo by Shutterstock.
1 De*d Man
Earlier this year, Gitta Jarant and her daughter Anke Anusic were arr*sted at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport after trying to wheel 91-year-old Kurt Willi Jarant through security onto a flight to Berlin. The problem? He wasn’t asleep, as the women insisted—he was de*d. When suspicious airport officials failed to find a pulse, the women claimed they thought he really was asleep, but a postmortem exam revealed that Gitta’s husband had passed away due to natural causes 12 hours before being discovered by airport security. It was speculated that the women were trying to dodge repatriation charges related to having a funeral at home in Germany. Photo by Shutterstock.
164 Trapdoor Spiders and 45 Buckets of Cockroaches
A Swiss man tried to drive across the German border with 164 trapdoor spiders and 45 buckets of cockroaches (food for the spiders) when he was stopped by customs officials. The spiders—some as big as a hand!—were sealed in plastic bags and boxed up in the car. The man was apparently planning to sell the spiders at a fair in Germany, but didn’t have a permit to own them. Photo by Shutterstock.
Last year Sony Dong attempted to smuggle 14 live birds into Los Angeles International Airport from Vietnam. To transport the animals, Dong custom-tailored a pair of cloth leg wraps that held the birds and were designed to be worn under his trousers. But his contraption wasn’t foolproof: Inspectors noticed bird feathers and droppings on his socks and tail feathers peeking out from under his pants. The reason for his efforts: Songbirds, which sell for around $10 to $30 a piece in Vietnam, are worth about $400 each to collectors in the U.S. Photo by Shutterstock.
70 Animals—Including Crocodiles
Last year, a 28-year-old man arriving from Bangkok tried to smuggle 70 live animals, including crocodiles, snakes, a turtle, spiders, scorpions and frogs through airport customs in South Africa. His stash of animals included at least three different endangered species. According to a customs officer at the scene, it was one of the largest collections of animals they’d ever seen on a person. Photo by Shutterstock.
14 Royal Pythons and 10 Leopard Geckos
A 22-year-old man who was admittedly “crazy about reptiles” was caught trying to smuggle 14 royal pythons and 10 leopard geckos into his homeland of Norway from Denmark. He had rolled the nonvenomous pythons into stockings and taped them to his torso and stored the geckos in small cans that he taped to his legs. Customs officials were tipped off to the situation when they found a tarantula in his luggage and noticed that his whole body was in “constant motion.” Photo by Shutterstock.
51 Tropical Fish
Customs officials at Melbourne airport smelled something fishy when they heard flipping noises coming from one traveler’s torso. An investigation revealed that the smuggler was wearing a plastic apron stocked with water-filled bags containing 51 live tropical fish. At the time (in 2005) the 50 tropical catfish and one endangered Asian Arowana fish had a total value of $30,000, and all were prohibited imports. Photo by Shutterstock.
23 Geckos and 20 Skinks
A German man was caught trying to leave New Zealand last year with 23 geckos and 20 skinks (a type of lizard) hidden in his underwear. A search by customs officials revealed seven different species of reptiles, plus a single gecko, in a rolled-up sock inside his luggage. On the black market these critters would have fetched around $35,000. Photo by Shutterstock.
After a vacation on the Greek island of Corfu last year, a British couple tried to sneak some very unusual souvenirs past customs: seven endangered tortoises. The turtle-smuggling duo was arrested as they disembarked their plane at London’s Stansted airport, where investigators found three tortoises in their carry-on bags and four tortoises in their suitcases. Police went on to raid the couple’s home and discovered two more tortoises plus an Asian pit viper. The animals can be sold for as much as $75 to $150 and are often smuggled to pay off travelers’ vacation costs. Photo by Shutterstock.