Some 143 tarantulas destined for Mexico were seized Thursday by Colombian authorities during an operation to combat animal trafficking at Bogota airport, the Colombian environment ministry announced.

The spiders, 12 of which were found dead from asphyxiation, were hidden in plastic bags on board a cargo plane, the ministry said in a statement.

The cargo “did not have documents certifying its origin” or authorizations allowing its legal transport, he added.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tarantulas are sold illegally as prized in the pet market, due to their docile nature and their colors.

Police have opened an investigation to identify the “sender and recipient” of the spiders. In November, 232 tarantulas destined for Europe had already been seized in Colombia.

The law provides for criminal penalties and very significant fines against those accused of animal trafficking, in one of the countries in the world with the richest biodiversity.

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