Airport X-ray surprise: 247 snakes, exotic pets

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Surprised airport workers in Argentina found hundreds of wriggling poisonous snakes and endangered reptiles inside the baggage of a Czech man who was about to board a flight to Spain.

Karel Abelovsky, 51, was made to open his baggage at Buenos Aires’ international airport after police spotted reptiles in the X-ray scanner. They found 247 exotic and endangered species in all, packed inside plastic containers, bags and even socks, each labeled in Latin with their scientific names.

“The airport workers couldn’t believe it when they saw the movement inside the suitcase. It was like an animated cartoon,” a source in the office of Judge Marcelo Aguinsky said Tuesday. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the judge’s investigation isn’t complete.

Abelovsky was released on about $2,500 bail after surrendering his passport and is refusing to talk even though he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Authorities believe the Czech was a courier for a criminal organization that smuggles exotic species whose exports are banned, a judicial source told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Authorities said Abelovsky only arrived in Argentina several days earlier and couldn’t have had time to gather the animals alone.

Aguinsky believes the boa constrictors, poisonous pit vipers and coral snakes, lizards and spiders could have escaped the cloth suitcase in the unpressurized cabin of the Dec. 7 Iberia flight to Madrid, and perhaps attacked people there or at his final destination in Prague, where antidotes for South American snakes aren’t common, the source added.

Most of the animals and bugs are being held under quarantine at the Buenos Aires Zoo, while some of the venomous snakes were sent to Argentina’s national health institute, which has a high-security department where scientists develop antidotes using venom from snakes.

The species include lizards native to Mexico and snakes, spiders, snails and other species from northern Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Some were already dead in the suitcase, while others have succumbed to stress since then. Many were quite weak on arrival at the zoo, but most are still alive.

Wild snakes and reptiles are known to carry infectious diseases and so must be kept apart from the public and other animals, said Miguel Rivolta, the lead zoo veterinarian.

“It’s difficult to find the right kind of bugs they eat, and to replicate as much as possible their environment in the wild,” Rivolta said. “The best thing that can happen to these animals is that they liberate them as soon as possible in their natural habitat.”

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Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires contributed to this story.

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