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The Most Bizarre Contraband Items Being Confiscated Around the World

Rhino horns in Vietnam, elephant tusks in Africa, turtles in Thailand, and drugs and dirty money just about everywhere: these are but a few of the laundry list of illegal goods being trafficked across country borders these days.

Just this past Tuesday (August 7) Hong Kong’s customs department confiscated 1,120 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five pieces of supremely valuable leopard skin, worth over $5 million dollars in total. In 2011, Thailand’s customs department confiscated endangered turtles worth a total of $33 thousand. Contraband artists have been caught smuggling bear claws across the China-Russia border, and poachers have been turning endangered polar bears into rugs and shipping them off for years. Earlier this year, a 70-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton was even successfully smuggled into the US, before it was found, confiscated and send back to Mongolia.

But it isn’t the mere variety in unusual items that are being smuggled that’s baffling—the varying ways in which they are being trafficked is mind-boggling, too. Last year in Germany, dirty money was found concealed in pastries; in Australia, 293 grams of ecstasy were found hidden inside of a Mr. Potatohead doll; and US customs enforcement seized 200 donkey statues containing some 1800 pounds of marijuana back in 2009.

Successful contraband trade is a tricky business. Moving contraband items from country to country isn’t only highly illegal, it’s highly risky, too. Here are a few of the strangest flops:


Just this past Tuesday (August 7), Hong Kong’s customs department seized 1,120 ivory tusks. The seizure also included rhino horns and leopard skin, and was worth over $5 million. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Back in June, Chinese customs police caught two Russians trying to smuggle 213 bear paws across the China-Russia border. (Reuters)
 
In May, the US government confiscated a 70-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton from the Gobi Desert that was successfully smuggled into the US in pieces and auctioned for over $1 million. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
 
In California, border officers have been seizing unusually large numbers of swim bladders of totoaba macdonald fish, which are coveted for use in Chinese soups. (Reuters)
 
Hong Kong’s immigration department even recently unraveled a large scale human smuggling syndicate. Mainland Chinese from the Fujian province were paying over $30,000 each and using Hong Kong passports with look-alike photos to sneak off to Australia, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. 15 people in total were caught, but many more are believed to have gotten away. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)
 
Germany’s customs department confiscated a polar bear rug, which was being smuggled into Germany from Norway. Poaching polar bears is illegal, as the breed is becoming highly endangered. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
 
They also caught bandits trying to launder money by concealing it in pastries. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
 
Last year, Spanish police arrested a Panamanian woman traveling from Bogota, Colombia to Barcelona for attempting to smuggle cocaine inside of her breast implants. (Reuters)
 
And candy eggs have been used to conceal cocaine, too. in 2010, US authorities caught someone trying to smuggle more than 14 pounds of cocaine inside of dozens of phony candy Easter eggs.(Ho New/Reuters)
 
Thailand’s customs department have had particular trouble with amphibian smuggling. Authorities confiscated seven freshwater crocodiles and over 451 turtles worth tens of thousands of dollars in 2011. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters)
 


Even spiders are being smuggled. A German national was caught shipping over a dozen tarantulas into the US through the mail in 2011. He pleaded guilty to federal smuggling charges. (Ho New/Reuters)

 
In 2010, antiquities smugglers were caught with two statues from the 6th century BC. The statues are now on display inside the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. (John Kolesidis/Reuters)
 


In 2009, 200 donkey-shaped cement yard statues were seized, after US immigration and customs enforcement found 1800 pounds of marijuana worth some $1.5 million hidden inside of them (Ho New/Reuters)

Australian authorities intercepted a suspect express mail package bound for the Czech Republic, and found a hollowed out book with two adult and two baby southern leaf tail geckos inside, which they promptly confiscated. (Ho New/Reuters)
 


Australian customs officials also seized a Mr. Potatohead toy in 2007, after they discovered 293 grams of ecstasy hidden inside. (Ho New/Reuters)

 
A woman was even caught on a flight from Singapore to Melbourne, Australia with 51 live tropical fish hidden in a specially designed apron under her skirt. Customs officers notices a strange “flipping” noise coming from her waist, before they found the 15 plastic water-filled bags. Reuters
 
And back in 2005, Australian customs officers seized over $50 million worth of ephedrine, a drug used to make “speed,” after they uncovered 800 statues made entirely of the drug. (Ho New/Reuters)
 
This story originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

 

Keywords: Crime, Borders

Roberto A. Ferdman is a reporter at Quartz, where he focuses on Latin American business and economics. All posts »

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