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5 Animals Used to Smuggle Drugs in Latin America

ARGENTINA / 7 MAY 2021 BY KATYA BLESZYNSKA EN

The cat-and-mouse game of evading law enforcement was taken literally by drug smugglers recently in Panama, who hid cocaine on a feline and sent it into a prison.

Though the cat case is a cuddly episode, hardened traffickers have employed a menagerie of animals as mules, including cows, canines and boa constrictors -- often to the animals' detriment.

InSight Crime explores some of the wildest drug smuggling cases to date.

1. Cats

Keen-eyed guards nabbed a fluffy white cat trying to enter Nueva Esperanza jail, 80 kilometers north of Panama City, in April.

The cat had a cloth tied around its body that held packages of cocaine, crack and marijuana, drug prosecutor Eduardo Rodríguez said in an interview with Panamanian television channel Telemetro.

This is not the first instance of a feline being used to transport drugs into prisons. Typically, a contact on the outskirts of the jail will tie small amounts of drugs on a cat's tail or neck, and inmates lure the animals inside with a treat.

SEE ALSO: Narco-pigeons and Other Jail-breakers

2. Cattle

The stakes are higher when using cows as drug mules. According to Nicaraguan news outlet La Prensa, suspicions of smuggling drugs inside cows has been on the radar of Central American authorities since around 2012.

A four-month investigation by the Mexican Army in 2013 revealed that illegal livestock trafficking infrastructure was also being used to transport drugs, with illicit substances in the stomachs of cattle, according to El Universal.

Cattle are originally purchased in Nicaragua by foreign buyers due to their relatively cheap price, and are then smuggled illegally through Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico. Corrupt officials provide fake documents so that it appears the cattle are being transported legally.

Cattle used as drug mules have been found in Honduras or Guatemala, particularly in border areas such as Choluteca, a department close to Honduras’ southern border with Nicaragua, a local source told InSight Crime.

There are three main ways this is done, experts say -- all of them brutal.

In one, a vet performs an operation on the animal and inserts 40 to 60 kilograms of drugs wrapped in plastic into its intestines through a five-inch opening in its stomach, reported Nicaraguan radio channel Radio La Voz del Norte.

Smaller quantities of drug-filled condoms can also be inserted into the animal’s rectum, and the product extracted once they reach their destination, according to Mexican publication El Universal.

The third method is to neuter a large animal and leave the outside skin of the testicles intact, which are then stuffed with packaged drugs, reported La Voz del Norte.

3. Pigeons

While mailing drugs is a well-known trafficking technique, some traffickers, have dispatched their product by carrier pigeon.

In 2013, a gang in Lomas de Zamora, a city on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, used pigeons with small tubes attached to their legs containing marijuana.

Police raided a property and found several cannabis plants, customer addresses and money from drug sales, as well as a dovecote on the roof.

Likewise, in 2015, Costa Rican authorities discovered a pigeon with 14 grams of marijuana and cocaine strapped to its chest, which had landed in the courtyard of La Reforma jail, in the Pacific coastal region of Puntarenas.

Such fowl play isn't limited to drugs. There are also cases of trained pigeons attempting to smuggle other types of contraband into Latin American prisons, including cell phones, hands free devices, SIM cards and pen drives.

SEE ALSO: Lack of Miami Airport Controls Facilitates Animal Trafficking: US Officials

4. Mice

In 2015, Brazilian news portal Delegados reported that guards at the Barra da Grota prison in the north of the country smelled a rat when they noticed a mouse scuttling around the prison with string tied to its tail.

On further inspection, around 30 bags of marijuana and 20 of cocaine were seized in one of the cell blocks, said to be smuggled in over time by the mouse from inmates in a different wing, reported Delegados.

The agents soon discovered that the mouse had been tamed and even liked to be petted, the prison’s director said in a video posted by Brazilian news outlet Globo.

5. Snakes

Even serpents have been used as mules. In 1993, customs inspectors at Miami International Airport discovered around 35 kilograms of cocaine inside the bodies of 312 live boa constrictors that had come from Bogotá, Colombia, according to United Press International (UPI).

The inspectors noticed an “unnatural bulge” in the lower body of one of the snakes, and an X-ray determined that two cocaine-filled condoms had been placed inside the reptile.

“The cocaine pellets had been forced into the snakes' rectums, which were then sewn shut,” recounted the investigators.

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