Orchids, coral reefs, turtles: Prague Airport official reports strange customs violations

We’ve probably all taken back some sand or a shell from the beach as a souvenir from a holiday before. But what about a gecko or a turtle? According to Prague Airport customs officers, coming across illegal food items, plants or even exotic animals in people’s luggage is an almost everyday occurrence during the summer holidays.

Photo: ignartonosbg,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

Animals or plants on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) list are the most frequent import violation at Prague Airport – there were 94 such cases last year. Igor Lenský from the airport customs office spoke to Czech Radio about the phenomenon.

“Some people bring stuff out of sheer ignorance – they just see the thing and like it, so they buy it or take it from somewhere while out on an excursion. Unfortunately, we also encounter cases where people try to import these things for commercial purposes.”

Most often, officials come across pieces of coral reef or protected plants such as orchids. But sometimes a customs officer can find an even bigger surprise during baggage checks. A striking example of this is a suitcase recently confiscated by customs officials that contained 64 snakes, five turtles and four geckos.

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But even if you’re not into smuggling exotic animals, Lenský warns that you have to be careful even with more commonplace holiday souvenir items such as sand, pebbles and seashells, as in some places there are local ordinances prohibiting the taking of such items. For example, on the Cote d'Azur in France, collecting mussels larger than three centimetres is prohibited, and the customs official warns of another salutary case from Italy.

“A tourist there filled a two-litre plastic bottle with sand from a Sardinian beach to take home – and was fined 700 euros.”

In general, it’s a bad idea to pick things up from protected natural areas or national parks, says Lenský, as these sites usually have bans in place.

Food items are another common source of trouble. Animal products such as dairy and meat may not be imported to Czechia from outside the European Union for personal consumption. Petr Vorlíček from the State Veterinary Administration explains why.

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“Non-EU countries have a different – and usually higher – risk of infection from certain diseases. So there are tropical diseases that could be introduced to Czechia or the European Union by this route.”

But there are some exceptions to this rule, says Vorlíček.

“There are European countries that are not part of the EU but where the infection risk is the same as in the rest of the EU, for example, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, or Greenland and the Faroe Islands. From these last two places, however, you’re only allowed to import a maximum of 10kg of the aforementioned animal products.”

So next time you’re thinking of picking up a pretty pebble or taking home some sand to remember your holiday by, make sure to think twice – and check what the local regulations are – first.

Photo: geralt,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License
Authors: Anna Fodor , Josefína Folprechtová
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