Trail of Slime in Airport Leads Customs Agents to Bags of Illegal Giant Snails

by Taylor Cunningham

Customs officers at a German airport say they followed a trail of slime to an illegal stash of nearly 100 giant African land snails this month.

According to a statement on Sept. 16, officials tripped over one of the snails, which can grow as large as 8 inches and weigh as much as two pounds, while inspecting a baggage truck at the Duesseldorf Airport. Because of its size, they believed it was a toy until it began to move.

The officials then noticed that the massive snail left a notable trail of slime in its wake. And that led them to a bag with a hole. And there was already another snail peering out when they arrived.

After opening the bag, authorities found 93 giant African snails, 62 pounds of fish and smoked meat, and another suitcase that was packed with various types of rotting meats. The bags had traveled from Nigeria and were headed to an African goods store located in western Germany.

However, the store never received its package. Instead, airport authorities gave the snails to a local animal rescue service and destroyed the meat.

“Never in the history of the Duesseldorf customs office has a trail of slime led us to smuggled goods,” said spokesman Michael Walk.

Giant African Land Snails Are a Dangerous Invasive Species

Giant African land snails have the potential to become a problematic invasive species when traded overseas. According to the USDA, the mollusk is known to feed on over 500 different types of plants. The species will even eat the stucco off of houses as a source of calcium. They are such a threat, that wildlife officials use dogs that are specially trained to sniff out the snails.

Because one four-month-old female can lay as many as 1,000 eggs at a time and up to 2,500 in a year, the population can quickly grow out of control and the snails will devastate farmlands. On top of that, they also carry a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans.

While the snails are popular with exotic pet traders, the United States federally prohibits people from selling or processing them. Despite that, they still make it into the states through the black market. And the animal has become a nuisance in the country.

This past June, officials in Florida were forced to put Pasco County in quarantine after finding more than 1,000 African snails. And it wasn’t the first time that cities in the state had to act similarly.

In 2011, a colony was found in Miami-Dade county, and it took an entire decade to eradicate the pests.