SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — On 9 September 2014 police at Costa Rica’s international airport arrested a 31-year-old German trying to smuggle 184 frogs, 42 lizards, nine snakes and 203 tadpoles — all in plastic food containers stuffed with leaves.
The German, Maciej Oskroba, was headed to Panama en route to Dusseldorf, Germany, where police suspect he planned to sell the animals.
“In my 20 years working at the airport this is the largest wildlife trafficking case we’ve seen,” said Carlos Viquez, the chief of airport security.
The size of this seizure is rare even in this Central American nation fighting to stop smugglers from taking off with its tropical treasures. The illicit trade of animals has long been a problem here. Last year alone, Costa Rican authorities seized 239 birds, 82 reptiles and 159 mammals from border checkpoints, roadblocks and private homes.
It’s gotten so bad that in 2012 the government declared animal trafficking a criminal offense, increasing the penalties for participating in the illegal trade, but the full penalties are rarely imposed.
During his two decades working at the airport, Viquez says he’s caught foreigners attempting to smuggle anything from hummingbirds to red-eyed tree frogs. Once, a man tried to sneak two white-nosed coatis through security in a wooden crate.
According to Rafael Gutierrez, an official with Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), the country’s tropical fauna can fetch a high price in foreign markets.
“Certain species of snakes and frogs can be worth up to $1,500 in Europe,” Gutierrez said. “We get reports when a species from this region is seized elsewhere and Europe seems to be where most Costa Rican animals wind up.”
Oskroba’s collection could have been worth thousands of dollars in Europe, where, according to online exotic pet shops, customers might have paid $50 for a translucent glass frog — of which he had 57 — or up to $300 for his lone boa constrictor.
Oskroba could have faced a fine or prison. But after the authorities held him for little more than a week, he’s being deported Thursday to Germany. The question now is whether the German authorities will take responsibility and prosecute the man.
Photos: courtesy Costa Rican government