Saturday 4 December 2010

Tarantula Smuggling Suspect Arrested In US

There has been some coverage of this story this morning and I thought it was an interesting comparison (or maybe contrast) with antiquity smuggling by the same route (Pete Norman, 'Tarantula Smuggling Suspect Arrested In US', Sky News Online):
A man has been arrested for smuggling hundreds of tarantulas and other spiders into the US, after authorities mounting an elaborate sting operation to catch him. Sven Koppler, 37, was arrested on December 2 after arriving in Los Angeles to meet an associate, following a nine-month investigation dubbed Operation Spiderman, prosecutors said. The probe began last March when customs officers found 300 live tarantulas during a routine search of a package. US fish and wildlife agents intercepted a second package containing nearly 250 live tarantulas wrapped in coloured plastic straws, as well as 22 Mexican red-kneed tarantulas.

Now if you Google the name you will find out that this gentleman is a well-known and respected dealer in the arachnophillic world and has been trading a very large number of species since 2003 at least, and so his packages must have been passing through US (and other countries') customs pretty regularly. I cannot find any other references to him having trouble with allegedly importing CITES-protected species earlier. This is, according to Norman's article, how it happened:
In a bid to catch the organisers red-handed, agents ordered more tarantulas from Koppler, who sent a package containing 70 live ones and one dead spider. Koppler, from Wachtberg in western Germany, allegedly earned some $300,000 (£190,000) from tarantula sales to spider fanciers in dozens of countries, including nine in the US. A number of the packages included spiders whose import was in breach of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), legal documents said. If found guilty he could face 20 years in jail and a fine of $250,000 (£158,000), according to prosecutors. "Sending light and small packages containing tarantulas is the best way to avoid customs detection around the world," Koppler allegedly claimed in email exchanges with an undercover US agent. Koppler added he could in theory smuggle tarantulas in his luggage when flying to Los Angeles, and would not be caught nine times out of 10 - but he preferred not to take the risk. "I am a foreigner and they will probably put me in prison. You have special laws. You have other laws that we don't have" in Germany, he said".
Well, I do not know about Germany which Bavarian Minister Zeile advertises in the US as an antiquity smugglers' haven, but certainly the US is not the only nation that expresses concern about the trade in protected animal species by legislation.

The parallels of this story to the smuggling of antiquities are interesting. Many of them pass through customs at the borders of the "source" as well as "purchasing" country through the normal post in packages which arouse little suspicion what they actually contain. My guess is the "success rate" (and customs' failure rate) is far greater than "nine times out of ten". What however is different is that as far as I know there have been no cases of a sting being set up to lure a foreign dealer onto US soil so he can be arrested there for trafficking from outside the US. So the US does this for alleged dealers in arms and those in protected animal species, when are we going to see a European or Near Eastern antiquities dealer in the US dock?

By the way with regard putting animals, whether endangered species or not, into envelopes sent through the mail, I found this on a spider-fondlers' forum (in a thread called 'packing your tarantulas') : The question is not "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"

UPDATE: U.S. court hears guilty plea of German tarantula smuggler Westlaw News and Insight Jan 19 2011: "Under a plea agreement reached in December, Koppler agreed to admit he violated American customs law by smuggling the endangered spiders into the U.S. Koppler, who lives in Wachtberg, Germany, faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on April 11, U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said".

See also my earlier post on a related topic: Reptilian Beginnings of an Antiquities Case?

[CITES: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora]

Vignette: handling tarantulas.

UPDATE UPDATE 19th November 2017:
To the gentleman in the comments who equates suffering with 'pain' and says arthropods 'dont feel pain' so cannot suffer, perhaps he might consider the whole area of emotions rather than just physical stimuli. Do spiders feel pleasure (in sex for example? If not, why do they do it?) do arthropods experience fear, anxiety? I guess if you are a callous dealer or collector of insects sticking them in boxes which then go through the post, the answer must be 'no', but there are a number of investigators who are gathering evidence that suggests we cannot be too sure (online can be found some texts on this: ' Do Insects Have Emotions? The Answer Might Make You Think Twice Before Swatting One' Bustle, 'Do spiders feel pain?'
Creation Moments, 'Do Bugs Feel Pain?' by Brian Tomasik... and so on). My family is one of bee keepers and my own feeling is that their behaviour as individuals and groups does indeed suggest bees (arthropods) experience something like what we call 'fear', Basically, I do not intend listening to the self-interested 'justifications' of those that treat living creatures as trophies and commodities. In any case, the point about 'suffering' referred to all animals treated as a tradeable commodity, not just one group of them.


Jee said...

It certainly is an interesting contrast with the world of antiquity dealing.

Smuggle a spider and you may get "20 years in jail and a fine of $250,000".... but buy a coin knowing perfectly well it may be illicit and all you get is a profit!

Damien Huffer said...

if only antiquities in general, or when separated into different 'species' (artifact types) were viewed by the public and law makers finite and 'endangered,' then we'd see better enforcement, more agents, and steeper penalties.

Unknown said...

Spiders cannot suffer because arthropods do not feel pain. NEXT!

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