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Cincinnati CBP Rescues Lizards from Illegal Exotic Pet Trade

Release Date: 
April 17, 2020

CINCINNATI—Cincinnati CBP officers and specialists recently received exciting news about a special delivery: a female armadillo banded lizard at the Cincinnati Zoo gave birth to a live, healthy baby. It’s quite possible this new little reptile nor his mother would be alive and well-cared-for had it not been for the officers and specialists at the Cincinnati port of entry.Lizards

In early November 2019, CBP officers at a Northern Kentucky local express consignment facility held a shipment coming from South Africa and destined to South Florida. The package was manifested as “toy animals, t-shirts, and markers” and contained an assortment of stuffed animals. While reviewing x-ray images of the shipment, officers and agriculture specialists noticed the stuffed animals contained distinct shapes of what appeared to be five live animals. When CBP agriculture specialists began opening the toys, the lizards’ tails and legs emerged, and they appeared to be moving.

CBP detained the lizards and contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement (FWS) wildlife inspectors, who identified the lizards as armadillo girdled lizards, Ouroborus cataphractus, a CITES II protected species. Armadillo girdled lizards are not permitted to be exported from South Africa without appropriate documentation because of conservation concerns. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden agreed to provide animal care for the lizards, and the shipment was referred to FWS special agents for further investigation.

“Our wildlife inspectors and special agents work with CBP officials to combat wildlife trafficking at U.S. ports of entry,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “The armadillo girdled lizard is a fascinating reptile with distinct natural “armor” that helps it survive in the wild. Unfortunately, one of the biggest threats to this species is the illegal wildlife trade. We would like to thank our partners at CBP and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden for their assistance with this case. Together, we can help protect imperiled species throughout the world.”

Armadillo girdled lizards have one to two babies a year or every other year, and given the armadillo girdled lizard’s gestation period is 6-8 months the new mother was pregnant when CBP rescued her.

“Our officers and specialists have a broad range of experience, and their quick response saved the lives of these protected species,” said Acting Area Port Director Eugene Matho.

Ryan Dumas, the Head Keeper of Herpetology and Fish at the Cincinnati Zoo, agrees. “The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Herpetology Department was happy to answer the call and offer these animals a home where they will be well cared for. Despite the awful shipping conditions of these smuggled lizards, all are thriving in their new behind-the-scenes habitat, eating, gaining weight, and looking great! Thank you to the CBP officers and FWS inspectors who always work so diligently to help find and prevent these incidents.”

Once the zoo reopens, the lizards will be part of the exhibit in the Dragons building.

CBP conducts operations at ports of entry throughout the United States, and regularly screens arriving international passengers and cargo for narcotics, weapons, and other restricted or prohibited products. CBP strives to serve as the premier law enforcement agency enhancing the Nation’s safety, security, and prosperity through collaboration, innovation, and integration.

Last modified: 
February 3, 2021