Some of the animals had been hidden in socks and empty ice-cream boxes. Sadly, two chameleons did not survive.
Austrian authorities stopped a man from smuggling 74 protected chameleons into Vienna airport last week.
The reptiles were found in a suitcase by customs authorities on 20 January, having travelled to Austria from Tanzania via the Ethiopian capital city, Addis Ababa. Many of the animals had been hidden in socks and plastic boxes.
A 56-year-old man who had the suitcase was intercepted by officials just as he was about to leave the baggage area.
“It quickly emerged that the suitcase contained living creatures which, while they would have been well camouflaged in a natural environment, ultimately did not outwit the X-ray machine,” authorities said in a statement.
The chameleons were “immediately transported” to the Austrian capital’s Schönbrunn Zoo, which said that two of the animals had already died on the way to Vienna.
All the animals were from the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania and ranged in age from one week old to adults.
“The reptiles are now housed in terraria which fulfil their specific needs, including high levels of ground moisture and an airy and cool environment,” the statement added.
Austria’s Finance Ministry said that they had been intended for sale in the neighbouring Czech Republic and the 74 creatures would have sold on the black market for a total of around €37,000.
The man who tried to smuggle the animals now faces a fine of up to €6,000 and has forefited his claim to the animals.
“The vital work undertaken by customs also regularly assists in ending the suffering of animals and putting a stop to unscrupulous wildlife traffickers,” said Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Blümel.
“Customs Administration not only ensures the protection of Austrian businesses and consumers, but it makes an indispensable contribution to animal welfare and the preservation of endangered species too.”