SOFIA Bulgarian customs officials seized a large number of live reptiles, insects and crabs - some of them dangerous - stashed in suitcases in a bus travelling from the Czech Republic, they said on Monday.
The alleged trafficker, a Bulgarian national, was arrested for trying to smuggle 49 turtles, 15 chameleons, six komodo dragons, four Cayman crocodiles and other animals including pythons and poisonous tree frogs, officials said.
"The animals were destined for sale on Bulgarian territory," Nikoleta Elenkova, a spokeswoman for the customs office, told Reuters. "They've been transported to the Sofia zoo and experts from the environment ministry will investigate them."
Elenkova said demand for exotic animals in the Balkan country, which joined the European Union in 2007, had increased significantly in recent years. Political analysts say such animals can be more easily transported across EU countries, which also include the Czech Republic, because border controls are more lax.
"I'm surprised that all the animals survived such a long journey - some 1,500 kilometers, as they've been packed in boxes," Milen Dimitrov, chief of the Kalotina checkpoint on the Serbian border, told reporters.
Dimitrov said passengers were lucky as some of the suitcases, including those containing the tree frogs, were located between seats and not in the luggage compartment.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Susan Fenton)