Struggles in smuggling

Is that a turtle in your pants or are you just happy to be returning to Canada?

Is that a turtle in your pants or are you just happy to be returning to Canada?

U.S. and Canadian customs agents are laughing now, but it was no joke that a man was nabbed at the border trying to smuggle 51 live turtles, some shoved down the front of his pants.

Canadian Kai Xu was intercepted last month by the Canada Border Services Agency as he attempted to cross into Windsor, Ont., from Detroit with the turtles taped to the lower portion of his body.

“Xu was found to have 51 live turtles taped to his person,” said Kenneth Adams, a special agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Specifically, Xu had 41 turtles taped to his legs and 10 hidden between his legs,” Canadian Press reported.

While Hollywood portrays smugglers as intelligent and cunning, Xu has soiled that romantic image.

Canadian authorities seized the turtles. According to Canadian Press, they included North American varieties such as eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders and diamondback terrapins. Officials say they could fetch upwards of $1,500 each on the black market. It’s a good thing for Xu, who faces smuggling-related charges in the U.S., that none were of the snapping variety.

Not to be outdone by Xu, a man was recently arrested attempting to smuggle his pet turtle on a flight to Beijing, cleverly disguised as a burger packed in his bag. The turtle came with the full-meal deal — tomatoes, lettuce, a slice of cheese and a cooked hamburger patty, all stuffed under its shell. According to Yahoo News, airport security became suspicious when they noticed “odd protrusions” sticking out of the burger.

All humour aside, smuggling is a serious business. The lucrative market fetches billions of dollars annually in goods ranging from humans to drugs, all the way to animals on the brink of extinction. It can be a sophisticated network and authorities worldwide re scrambling for solutions. But as crime-watching technology grows, so do innovative smuggling schemes to stay one step ahead of the law.

But as Yahoo News recently reported in an account of “stupid smugglers,” not every perpetrator is sophisticated, or even very bright. “Some things that people try to sneak through (airport) security, and how they do it, will make you scratch your head in wonder,” Yahoo stated. And Ian Fortey, staff writer for the website Cracked, says “When you combine contraband, poverty, desperation and lots of spare time, you get the bizarre world of the smuggler … using every ounce of creativity. It appears quite a few of them are insane.”

While the infamous “turtle burger” might lead the top of the list of stupid smugglers, there are other examples to be considered:

l Live pigeons were found strapped to a man’s legs while he attempted to board a flight from Dubai to Melbourne. He also attempted to smuggle in bird eggs, plant seeds and an eggplant.

l A man was arrested trying to sneak 44 snakes and lizards in his carry-on luggage onto a flight from Australia to Bangkok. The haul included an albino carpet python.

l A woman with a taste for spicy sausages tried smuggling links of chorizo (a much-coveted spicy Mexican delight) across the U.S.-Mexican border in baby diapers. Customs inspectors became suspicious of the “chunky nappies.”

l In California, airport security uncovered live ammunition stored in packages of compressed marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Agency said this was the first and only time they’ve found ammunition smuggled inside a controlled substance.

l A woman was stopped in the Melbourne airport after officials heard “flipping noises” coming from her body. She was wearing an apron-like garment that held 15 water containers carrying 51 tropical fish.

l Officials at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport found 200 live tarantulas, and a load of other insects, including crickets and millipedes, in tubes hidden in a German couple’s clothing and shoes. They had collected the creepy-crawlers on a trip to Peru.

l In 2010, a Thai woman attempted to smuggle a baby tiger into Iran, cleverly disguised as a stuffed toy. An X-ray scan detected the animal’s heartbeat. The two-month-old cub had been sedated and wedged next to a stuffed version of a tiger.

Not to be outdone, Cracked has its own version of what Fortey calls “The … most ingenious (and insane) smuggling techniques.”

U.S. authorities are constantly on guard for Mexican immigrants trying to sneak into the country.

“Of course smuggling human beings across borders is a whole different ballgame,” writes Fortey. “After all, it’s not like you can stuff a whole person in the glove box.”


A few years ago, customs officials at the U.S.-Mexican border stopped a car and asked to see the driver’s registration. When the glove box was popped open, authorities noted a 135-pound woman jammed in the dashboard looking out at them.

“Arguably more stupid,” writes Fortey, was the case of a man who tried to disguise himself as a captain’s chair in a vehicle attempting the cross into the U.S. The stuffing in the seat was removed and the chair’s upholstery was wrapped around the would-be culprit. Another passenger was sitting on the human seat.

Of course, there’s nothing like a shot of vodka to make a person think they’re clever.

Entrepreneurs tried to deliver the booze through a pipeline from Russia to Estonia. Authorities discovered the pipeline, more than 1.5 km long, after it delivered 7,300 litres of the much-sought-after vodka.

Based on the evidence of smugglers’ bad choices around the world, more than a few of them might spend a little too much time being inspired by vodka.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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