Twelve critically endangered iguanas seized from smugglers by UK Border Force officers at London’s Heathrow Airport have been returned home to their native Bahamas.
The reptiles were discovered in the baggage of Romanian nationals on 3 February by staff carrying out customs checks.
The iguanas were each wrapped in an individual sock and had been stuffed into suitcases. Twelve survived their journey but one died in transit.
They were identified as San Salvador rock iguanas, a species so rare that only a few hundred are known to be in existence. As such they are controlled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The women were later sentenced to 12 months in prison for smuggling, after an investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
Following the seizure, officers from Border Force’s specialist CITES team worked with the Bahamas High Commission in London to arrange their return to their native islands.
One Wednesday last week, the iguanas were taken from the City of London Corporation’s Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow to board a British Airways flight to Nassau, accompanied by two Border Force officers, for their journey.
They were then transported to a government research station on the island of San Salvador where they will be monitored by experts, with the eventual aim of retuning them to the wild.