LONDON, England – Two Romanian women have been sentenced to one year in prison for smuggling 13 critically endangered iguanas from The Bahamas into London Heathrow Airport.
The women, Angela-Alina Bita, 26, and Vitora-Oliva Bucsa, 24 were found with the iguanas by UK Border Force officers on February 3rd at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
Both pleaded guilty to illegal importation at Isleworth Court in the UK on Thursday 3 April 2014.
The iguanas were found in individual socks wrapped in a towel, one died in transit.
The San Salvador rock iguanas are a rare species which comes under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Head of the Border Force CITES team, Grant Miller 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.”
Bita and Bucsa will serve 6 months out of their sentence in prison and 6 months on probation.
The UK Authorities have been clamping down on the illegal smuggling of exotic animals and hope to have stiffer penalties to thwart this activity in the future.
“On behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, we are thankful for the great efforts and attention provided by the UK Authorities in handling this matter and we will continue to work with UK Officials as we proceed towards the iguanas’ repatriation” said His Excellency, Eldred Bethel, High Commissioner.
Now UK Border Control officers are working with Bahamian Authorities to return the iguanas to The Bahamas in good and healthy condition.
Director of The Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission, Philip S. Weech said “Even though The Bahamas welcomes 6 million visitors annually we do not welcome persons who seek to cause harm to our country and our people. We are working with the UK Border Force and have on two occasions visited the facilities where we saw that the animals were well taken care of. We are also grateful for the cost incurred on the part of the UK Government in keeping the iguanas. The CITES procedure in repatriating endangered species is being followed by the UK. We will continue to work with CITES to ensure that the unique biodiversity which represents The Bahamas is safely repatriated.”