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Woman carrying 130 poisonous frogs in her luggage charged with wildlife trafficking

A Brazilian woman travelling to Sao Paulo via Panama has been charged with wildlife trafficking after 130 Harlequin frogs were seized from her luggage.

The alleged smuggler was arrested at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport by authorities on Monday (29 January) after the poisonous animals were discovered packaged inside small film canisters.

Officials described the amphibians, also known as poison-dart frogs, to be in a “dehydrated” and “stressed” condition.

130 of the Harlequin frogs were found inside plastic film canisters (Bogota's Environment Secretary/A)
130 of the Harlequin frogs were found inside plastic film canisters (Bogota's Environment Secretary/A)

The highly toxic Harlequin frogs found in Central and South America are considered a critically endangered species. Small animals and predators including birds, can be killed by their poisonous skin glands.

According to Bogotá police commander Juan Carlos Arevalo, the amphibians are worth up to $1,000 (£780) each and are highly sought after by international private collectors.

In total, officials estimate the woman was carrying around $130,000 (£102,707) worth of the contraband frogs on her journey to Brazil.

The poisonous red and blue frogs grow to around 4.8cm long (Bogota’s Environment Secretary/AFP)
The poisonous red and blue frogs grow to around 4.8cm long (Bogota’s Environment Secretary/AFP)

Adriana Soto, the Bogotá environment secretary, said the woman claimed the tiny Harlequin frogs, just shy of 5cm long, were a “gift” from a local community in southern Colombia.

The possession of the vibrant animals could see the unidentified woman charged up to 56 million pesos (£11,300).

It’s not the first time that thousands of dollars worth of rare wildlife has been smuggled across borders.

In 2022 a man pleaded guilty to two counts of smuggling and one count of wildlife trafficking after bringing 1,700 animals into the US.

The reptiles brought by Jose Manuel Perez from Mexico to the US included turtles, lizards and crocodiles worth at least $730,000.

A Russian tourist arrested in Bali also claimed that a protected primate was gifted to him as a pet after being arrested for attempting to smuggle a drugged orangutan home in his luggage in 2019.

Andrei Zhestkov was detained at Ngurah Rai International Airport with the two-year-old monkey sleeping in a rattan basket.