Colombia seizes hundreds of arachnids being illegally smuggled to Europe

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian authorities seized hundreds of creepy crawlies as they were being taken illegally to Europe via the airport in capital city Bogota, officials said on Thursday.

Two Germans were found with 210 plastic containers they were using to carry the arachnids, which included 232 tarantula spiders, nine spider eggs and a scorpion with seven of its young, as well as 67 roaches.

Colombia, which is one of the world's 17 mega-diverse countries and boasts tens of thousands of different species, is a target for wildlife traffickers drawn by its biodiversity.

More than 11,000 specimens have been seized during 2021 so far, officials said.

"We haven't had a shipment of tarantulas this size since 2018 (and) the largest we have had this year was shark fins," Bogota's environment secretary, Carolina Urrutia, said in a statement.

In September Colombian authorities confiscated a shipment of 3,493 shark fins - equivalent to between 900 and 1,000 sharks - which were to be illegally trafficked to Hong Kong.

The would-be German traffickers argued that they were shipping the spiders, scorpions and cockroaches for academic reasons but authorities said they did not have the permits to do so.

The animals are being examined by professionals, officials said, who will later decide whether to free or relocate them.

(Reporting by Herbert Villarraga and Oliver Griffin; Editing by Mark Porter)