On Wednesday, the United States Department of Justice announced that a "years-long international saga" has finally come to a close, with the repatriation of seven Brazilian boa constrictors to their home country. Let me repeat: a "years-long international saga."
This particular boa constrictor saga began with the discovery of a rare snake, a wild, leucistic (nearly albino) boa constrictor, in the forests of Brazil. That snake was taken to the Brazilian Niterói Zoo, and dubbed "Diamond Princess," or just "Lucy."
Fast forward to 2009. A number of animal deaths at the privately-owned zoo prompt an investigation. Laurel Neme wrote in National Geographic last year that when the zoo was subsequently shuttered by the country's National Environment Agency (IBAMA) in 2011, the rare snake was nowhere to be found:
IBAMA agents questioned the zoo's administrator, Giselda Candiotto, who said she'd taken the boa home and that it had died. IBAMA agents doubted her claims… Niterói Zoo's veterinarian confirmed that he'd cared for the snake for a year at Candiotto's house but that one day she said not to come because it had died. He said he should have done a necropsy, but he never saw the dead snake's body.
Brazilian officials doubted that the snake was actually dead. It made more sense to them that Lucy was instead in the U.S., in the hands one Jeremy Stone — a snake breeder who was lovingly showcasing a suspiciously-similar looking snake on YouTube:
Stone wanted to use the snake to breed others that would carry the leucism gene, and appear as unique as the Brazilian boa constrictor. He said on his website that the rare snake he'd gotten hold of was not the same as the one that had disappeared from the Niterói Zoo.
But, later, Stone and his sister Kerri Ann Stone were indicted for "conspiring to unlawfully import" the boa from Brazil to the U.S., with intention of breeding and selling the boa's babies. The DOJ description of the allegations against the pair is epic. According to the indictment:
- Jeremy Stone sent thousands of dollars to the zoo administrator as payment for the animal from 2007 to 2009.
- He also sent emails instructing the administrator on how to smuggle the boa out (in a suitcase).
- Jeremy and Keri Ann Stone went to Brazil, allegedly to get the boa, and then tried to leave on a cruise but were denied because Keri Ann appeared to be very pregnant.
- They then tried to leave on plane, but were stopped because airport security realized that Keri Ann's apparently pregnant belly was hollow and empty (emphasis ours).
- Ultimately, Jeremy was able to bring the boa to Guyana and obtain false papers for the animal there. After that, he brought the boa home to the U.S.
Soon after the indictment was filed, Jeremy Stone pleaded guilty, and agreed to return seven of his snake's offspring to Brazil.That means Princess Diamond won't be returned to her home country because, according to the DOJ, she is dead.
Because Princess Diamond was captured in the Brazilian wild, she rightfully belongs to that country. And so the return of her offspring means that, all things considered, justice is done.
But one question remains—would Keri Ann Stone really have carried a live boa constrictor on her person, in a fake belly, on an international flight? Get at us, Kerri.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.