The Galapagos Land Iguanas that inspired Charles Darwin during his evolution research have been endangered for a number of years, but that didn’t stop one man from trying to smuggle a few out.
A German tourist was arrested on Monday after security guards at the Baltrai airport on the Galapagos Islands. He reportedly had four of the often three-foot-long iguanas in his luggage. They yellowish lizards were found wrapped in canvas.
If convicted, the German citizen, identified only as Dirk B., could face three years in prison for environmental crimes.
Male Galapagos Land Iguanas can weight up to 30 pounds and have been seen raising themselves up to allow finches to eat ticks off their bellies.
Though there are believed to be between 5 and 10 thousand of these lizards on the Galapagos, the introduction of feral animals to the islands once caused entire populations to be wiped out.
By 1954, the Land Iguanas became extinct on Baltra Island, some claim because soldiers stationed at Baltra would shoot the lizards for fun. It was not until the 1990s that a reintroduction project was begun to bring them back to the island using the few iguanas Captain G. Allan Hancock had moved to North Seymour Island.
The translocated iguanas would become the breeding stock for the Charles Darwin Research Station captive breeding program which has successfully reintroduced the species to Baltra and a number of other areas. In 1997, scientists counted 97 Galapagos Land Iguanas on Baltra, with 13 having actually been born on the island.