Crazy Items Confiscated at Customs
Your palms may sweat a bit when you get to the front of the customs line, knowing you have one bottle of wine too many in your luggage. But that's nothing compared to what some travelers try to get away with. Think bear paws, live snakes, exotic animals, and some creatively packaged drugs.
Sakchai Lalit, AP
Read on for a list of the craziest contraband confiscated by customs agents around the world.
10. Shoes Stuffed with Heroin
Drug smugglers might be a scheming bunch, but that doesn't mean they always use their brains. In October 2010, a 32-year-old U.S. citizen and her younger brother were busted with some serious contraband when disembarking from Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas cruise ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Custom agents pegged the duo for a secondary screening process as they were leaving the boat, and when the woman's luggage was opened they found some pretty unlikely contents -- 15 pairs of 1980s-style men's shoes. The fact that such unusual items were being carried by a woman raised suspicions that led to the discovery of over six kilograms of heroin, worth $324,000, which had been duct taped inside the shoes.
9. Human Skulls
They would have made for some very creepy Halloween decorations, but the six human skulls confiscated in September 2010 from the luggage of two American tourists at the Athens International Airport in Greece never left their country of origin. Greek police charged the tourists, who had purchased the skulls at a souvenir shop on the island of Mykonos and thought they were fake, with desecrating the dead. The skulls were found during an airport scanner check when the Americans were on a layover at the Athens airport. A police official speaking anonymously said that a coroner had confirmed that the skulls were human.
8. Tiger Cub
He was even cuter and fuzzier than his poly fill brethren. The roughly three-month-old tiger cub that was found sedated and hidden among stuffed animal tigers inside a woman's luggage at Bangkok International Airport was discovered when the oversize suitcase went through an X-ray machine. Airport officials saw what appeared to be a live animal inside the bag and took it aside for further inspection, according to wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC. The suitcase's owner was bound for Iran where, according to officials, the tiger cub could have brought in more than $3,000 on the black market. The cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center instead, and the woman faces wildlife smuggling charges and fines.
7. Fake $100,000 Bills
In 2009, a passenger arriving at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport from Seoul, South Korea, had two counterfeit $100,000 bills confiscated from him before he could embark on what could have been one very ambitious shopping spree. Back in 1934, rare $100,000 bills were produced to be circulated between the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Banks. But the bills never made it into general circulation. Agents discovered the man's faux money during a luggage screening -- the passenger had marked on his customs form that he was entering the country with more than $10,000. He claimed to have found the bills in an old book belonging to his father. They were deemed to be counterfeit and turned over to the Secret Service.
6. Cocaine Cast
Rolling up to a security line with a cast on your leg can win you some sympathy and a spot at the front of the queue in some airports -- but it can also raise suspicions. In 2009, a Chilean passenger arriving from Santiago was busted at the airport in Barcelona, Spain when it was determined that the cast on his leg was made from cocaine instead of plaster. While the man really did have bone fractures, officials were investigating if his injuries had been done intentionally to ease trafficking through checkpoints. The proof was in the pudding when they decided to spray the cast with a chemical that turns bright blue when in contact with cocaine (it did). In addition to the illicit cast, the passenger also had on him six cans of beer and hollowed-out stools containing cocaine.
5. Bear Paws
Forget images of delicious bakery pastries studded with almonds. The bear paws that were confiscated in October 2010 from a man's luggage at Ho Chi Minh City Airport in Vietnam were the real furry deal. A scanner detected the paws (a dozen in total) inside the checked luggage of a Vietnamese man arriving from Hong Kong, according to reports. Bear paws are stewed as part of Vietnamese bear paw soup, which is also considered a delicacy dish in Cambodia, China and elsewhere in Asia.
4. Snakes and Lizards
And you thought snakes on planes were bad? Imagine being the bold would-be smuggler who taped some 14 snakes and ten lizards onto his body in an attempt to sneak the reptiles into Norway in 2009, after arriving in the country by ferry from Denmark. Granted, the snakes were non-venomous king pythons -- and the creatures were rolled up in socks and taped onto the man's torso. The lizards (albino leopard geckos) were hidden in boxes that were strapped to the man's legs. Perhaps the wackiest part of the whole thing is that it wasn't the snakes that betrayed the man's intentions to officials -- a tarantula spotted in his luggage is what led to the full body search that revealed the whole slithering affair. A customs official was quoted as saying that they "quickly realized the man was smuggling animals, because his whole body was in constant motion." Creepy crawly, indeed.
3. Bonytongue Fish
An airline losing your luggage is never a good thing. But for one would-be wildlife smuggler, it was definitely a worst-case scenario. Chee Thye Chaw from Queens was arrested in 2009 after officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York determined that he was trying to bring 16 bonytongues (an endangered fish species) into the country. Chaw was returning from Malaysia, but his baggage did not show up at the claim in New York. The next day, a customs agent performing random checks on lost baggage discovered 16 fish packed in individual plastic bags cushioned with Styrofoam inside the luggage. Chaw claimed to have no intention of selling the fish, which are considered good luck charms in Asian cultures and sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 apiece.
2. Rhinoceros Horns
Ireland is one of the last places you'd expect to find bits of safari animals. But over the course of several weeks in late 2009 and 2010, three Irish passengers were busted at Shannon Airport when ten rhinoceros horns, including six from the endangered white rhino and four from black rhinos, also considered critically endangered, were discovered in their suitcases. The value of the horns was placed at roughly 500,000 Euros, or close to $678,000. Rhino horns are often ground down and used as a prized ingredient in Chinese medicine. According to a report on a National Geographic blog, the illegal rhino horn trade "is responsible for decimating the world's rhino population by more than 90 percent over the past 40 years."
1. Snake Wine
For many oenophiles, a glass of snake wine might not have quite the appeal of, say, Sauvignon Blanc. But in Southeast Asian countries, a whole snake soaking in alcohol is a specialty unto itself -- which isn't to say that it's welcome across international borders. For Miami customs officials, it was just another day at the office in May 2009 when a routine inspection revealed a cobra and other poisonous snakes packed into a jar of liquid that had arrived inside an express mail package from Thailand. The package was bound for an address in the Southeastern United States. In certain cultures, poisonous snakes are dissolved in alcohol to bring the poison out. The liquid is then used for medicinal purposes.
Up Next: Our list of some of the wackiest -- and scariest -- flight delays
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