Hundreds of Dead Animals Found at South Africa Airport

Animal-rights group says shipping containers were headed for U.S.' exotic pet trade

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Miona Janeke, HO, NSPCA / AP

This photo released by National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (NSPCA), shows dead reptiles and amphibians on top of a metal table at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.

Hundreds of endangered animals were found dead in crates at a South African airport, animal inspectors said on Friday, after not receiving food or water for several days.

South Africa’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was called to O.R. Tambo International Airport after an inspector noticed a “bad smell” during a typical cargo search on Jan. 29 at the Johannesburg’s main airport. Taking a closer look, inspectors opened two crates to find more than 1,600 reptiles and amphibians—including many endangered species of chameleons, lizards, geckos, toads and frogs—but not all of them were alive.

About one-fourth of the animals had died by the time they were discovered. “Many animals could not move or turn around in their containers. None had been provided with water which caused extreme dehydration in the surviving animals,” the NSPCA said in a statement.

The group believes they were traveling from Madagascar and destined for the United States’ exotic pet market. The surviving animals were taken to the Johannesburg Zoo, where they are receiving care.

“A substantial number have stabilized, eating and drinking. There are about over 1,200 that have survived—others with irreparable damage,” Brett Gardener, the zoo’s veterinarian, told the BBC. “The boxes arrived on Tuesday morning and were scheduled to connect on a flight that evening. The flight was delayed indefinitely due to bad weather and attempts to put them in another flight failed.”

The incident will be further investigated by the NSPCA and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.