By James Bruggers
From monkey skin coats to ivory pool cues to endangered-snake wine, Louisville International Airport has become a main battleground in America’s fight to halt wildlife smuggling.The world of fast-paced logistics has made the airport and its UPS Worldport — the world’s seventh-largest cargo hub — a prime pass-through destination for the goods of poachers, unscrupulous merchants or unknowing shoppers and tourists, buying or selling such illegal wildlife parts as elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns or regulated snake-skinned purses.
As a result, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors increasingly play an important role in curbing that trade.
A team of nine inspectors, supported by two special agents and three administrative employees, examined 12,292 shipments passing through Louisville last year, the fifth-most among 18 wildlife ports, behind Memphis, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; Los Angeles; and New York.
They have found nearly 3,500 violations since 2003, and confiscated a dizzying and, to many people, a sickening array of wildlife and wildlife parts — including a protected dead snake inside bottled wine, a reputed aphrodisiac.
“Most of what we see (and cite), it could have been legal had it been licensed and complied with the regulations,” said Carmen Perdas, who supervises the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife port office in Louisville. “Then we have the straight-up illegally smuggled things,” such as those rhino horns and elephant tusks, she said. More....