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US museum curator temporarily detained in Turkey airport with 1,500 scorpions and spiders in luggage

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A curator at New York’s renowned American Museum of Natural History, who was detained at Turkey’s Istanbul Airport on the suspicion of smuggling valuable poisonous spiders and scorpions out of the country, has returned to the United States.

Lorenzo Prendini was arrested by the Turkish police Sunday, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported, before being released earlier this week. Authorities also confiscated dozens of bags from Prendini’s luggage which reportedly contained around 1,500 scorpions and spiders including tarantulas, as well as 88 plastic bottles containing unspecified liquids.

Video footage from the incident shows an airport official removing plastic bags containing arachnids and scorpions, packed in a plastic lunch box.

Police said the confiscated specimens were indigenous to Turkey and their DNA could be copied, while their poisons could be used for making medicines, as per Reuters. According to the police, one liter of medicine from scorpion venom could be worth $10 million, which is why it was prohibited to take these animal species out of the country. Police added that the suspect faces charges under anti-smuggling law for attempting to carry the specimens out of the country.

Curator says he had permits

Prendini, who is listed as the curator of the museum’s spider, scorpion, centipede and millipede collections, told BBC News Monday that he had permits from the government that allowed him to take the samples out of Turkey and that airport officials “completely ignored” those. He also said he appeared before a Turkish judge and was released without charge after spending a night in jail.

Prendini, in an email to USA TODAY Wednesday, shared a photograph of himself with two people he said are Turkish police officers and now his “good friends.” The photograph was taken outside the courthouse in Istanbul after the verdict was rendered.

The curator said the officers’ superiors had ordered them “to frogmarch” Prendini “in handcuffs” and then leaked those photos to the media.

Prendini said he has returned to the United States.

The American Museum of Natural History did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for a comment on the incident.

Saman Shafiq is a trending news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at sshafiq@gannett.com and follow her on X @saman_shafiq7.

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