German gets jail time for Galapagos iguana smuggling

QUITO (AFP) - An Ecuadoran court has sentenced a German tourist to four years in prison for trying to smuggle threatened iguanas out of the Galapagos Islands.

Dirk Bender "will serve four years in prison as stated in the judgment reported today by the president and judges" of the criminal court that found him guilty on Jan 5 of having altered the local ecosystem of the archipelago, the Galapagos National Park said in a statement Monday.

Bender was arrested at the airport on Baltra Island on July 8 after park officials noticed him carrying a suspicious package, which was found to contain four lizards wrapped in canvas.

The hidden reptiles were Galapagos land iguanas (conolophus subcristatus), which the International Union for Conservation of Nature ranks as "vulnerable" on its Red List of Threatened Species.

The statement said Bender will serve his sentence in a prison in the Ecuadoran port city of Guayaquil since the archipelago does not have such a facility.

Time he has already spent in a provisional detention facility in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz will be taken into consideration, according to park authorities.

The Galapagos Islands, situated about 1,000km off Ecuador's coast, gained fame when Darwin visited in 1835 to conduct research that led to his revolutionary theories on evolution.

The archipelago has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978 for the rich plant and animal life found both on land and in the surrounding sea.

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