Lee Ardern, 26, a British citizen was taken into custody by the Brazilian police in the Rio de Janeiro international airport, Wednesday night, after customs randomly checked his luggage and found out that he was carrying about 900 live bird-eating spiders of four different species, which he was trying to smuggle out of Brazil.
Initially, the Brazilian Federal Police that made the arrest at the airport refused to give the man's name. Apparently the spiders were hidden in air boxes camouflaged at the bottom of the two pieces of luggage he was carrying.
Ardern told authorities that he had bought the animals for US$ 5 each and his intention was to resell them for ten times that price or US$ 50 a piece in the United Kingdom. He was fined US$ 871,000 (1.5 million reais) and was released on bail but had to promise to continue in Brazil.
The penalty for that kind of environmental crime can vary between six months and a year in prison. The man has 20 days to present his case and try to avoid prison and the payment of the fines.
The man told the Police he owns a pet shop in the UK and that the spiders would be sold as pets. According to Carlos Daunting, Ibama's (Brazilian Environment Institute) inspection chief, the animals belonged to two Brazilian species and two Paraguayan ones.
"They were being transported in minuscule boxes inside the suitcases, where they were crowded together, some were already hurt and others were very small," revealed Daunting. " For that he was booked for cruelty to animals and fined 1 real (65 cents) for each spider.
"He also was fined for illegal transportation of animals from the Brazilian fauna for the 300 spiders that were from here and whose fine is 500 reais (US$ 290) per valuable item because they were going to be commercialized. Finally, he also was fined an additional 300,000 reais for the 600 Paraguayan spiders, for the crime of introducing exotic species in the country," concluded Daunting.
Ibama agents helped the police to collect the spiders which were shipped to a local lab for their species classification by experts. Some spiders were then sent to the National Museum of the Federal University of the Rio de Janeiro, others for the Rio Zoo and some still to the Butantan Institute, in São Paulo, a world-renowned biomedical research center.