Bizarre and sometimes illegal animal parts shipped through Alaska often catch the attention of U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspectors -- often enough that they seize animal parts or products, on average, once a week.
The most recent example: a stack of 55 monitor lizard skins -- used for belts, watch bands and purses, valued at more than $4,200 -- now sitting in a warehouse in Anchorage.
Fish and Wildlife nabbed the lizard skins as they made their way from New York to Taiwan recently. The skins violated the Endangered Species Act and had a bad invoice, according to Fish and Wildlife enforcement inspector Chris Andrews.
On a scale of 1 to 10, seizing a bunch of lizard skins labeled with a false invoice ranked about a five, Andrews said. Something as serious as finding a shipping container full of elephant tusks, by comparison, would rise to a 10, he said.
That's because Andrews, who has the same level of authority as a customs officer, has seen a lot of odd things in the 14 years he's worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service. At least, things that would seem odd to someone not versed in the intricacies of the animal parts trade, like Andrews, or maybe a person with a tame palate by American standards.
Inspectors see cans of whale meat from Japan that are labeled with nutrition facts. Bear fat in big glass bottles with Russian letters. Bear gallbladders in plastic bags from Alaska, bound for Asia. Grilled monitor lizard pieces from Mexico. Grilled rat meat from Laos and Vietnam. Grilled bats on sticks.
"That's kind of our inside joke," Andrews said. "You name it, on a stick."
Earlier this year, inspectors pulled a set of elephant toenails from a shipment. Slow-growing coral, bleached by chemicals used in other countries to catch fish, comes through Anchorage, Andrews said. The inspector shared a picture of a large, dead frog made into a purse.
They also see a lot of bird nests, he said. The aptly-named Edible-nest Swift from southeast Asia makes its nest with spit, and the nests are collected from steep cliffs or caves to be boiled and turned into a bird-spit-nest soup, thought to be high in nutrients and able to increase the libido.
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