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Holiday man sentenced for trafficking in protected water monitor lizards

To avoid detection by U.S. Customs, the lizards were placed in socks sealed with tape and concealed in electronic equipment.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission photo shows an escaped pet Asian water monitor lizard after it was captured in Davie in 2018.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission photo shows an escaped pet Asian water monitor lizard after it was captured in Davie in 2018. [ ERIC SUAREZ | AP ]
Published Sep. 22, 2020
Updated Sep. 22, 2020

TAMPA — A Holiday man has been sentenced four years probation, 90 days of house arrest and 288 hours of community service for illegally importing monitor lizards from the Philippines.

Akbar Akram, 44, pleaded guilty Jan. 8 in U.S. District Court in Tampa and admitted to importing at least 20 live, water monitor lizards from the Philippines between January and December 2016. The shipments violated the U.S. Lacey Act of 1900, banning trafficking in certain wildlife, as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Treaty.

The sentence, issued by U.S. District Judge William F. Jung, was announced Tuesday in a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

To avoid detection by U.S. Customs, the lizards were placed in socks sealed with tape and concealed in the back panels of audio speakers and other electronic equipment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The equipment was shipped via commercial carriers to Akram and an associate, who lived in Massachusetts.

Related: Pasco man pleads guilty to smuggling monitor lizards from the Philippines

The lizards were sold to customers in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Akram told authorities the lizards were worth about $1,000 each. But federal prosecutors say they could have a retail value in the exotic pet market of as much as $2,500 each for a total value of up to $50,000.

This case is part of Operation Sound of Silence, an effort by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice to crack down on illegal taking and trafficking in protected species.

“Wildlife trafficking is harsh and cruel," said Edward Grace, assistant director of law enforcement with Fish and Wildlife. “Operation Sound of Silence revealed that baby lizards were illegally collected, inhumanely packaged, and internationally trafficked with many arriving into the United States injured, sick or dead.”

Water monitor lizards are semi-aquatic lizards endemic to South and Southeastern Asia. They are water-dependent and easily swim long distances, enabling them to inhabit a number of remote islands. Some species are common and abundant in the pet trade while others are rare and found only on certain islands.

Exotic pet traders seek water monitor lizards due to their attractive patterns, unique colors, intelligence, and rarity.