Turkey Clears Natural History Museum Curator Accused of Smuggling Spiders and Scorpions

Police confiscated about 1,500 samples from the curator.

Lorenzo Prendini, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, being taken to the courthouse by police in Istanbul, Turkiye on May 13, 2024. Photo: TUR General Directorate of Security / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images.

A curator with the American Museum of Natural History who was arrested on allegations that he tried to smuggle spider and scorpion samples has been cleared of wrongdoing by a Turkish judge and released from custody.

“I was completely cleared of all charges by a Turkish judge and released. I do not wish to comment further at this time,” Lorenzo Prendini confirmed in an email after spending a night in jail.

He was detained in Istanbul on Monday, May 13, and had 1,500 samples of scorpions and spiders endemic to Turkey confiscated from his luggage, Turkey’s Andalou News Agency reported. He had faced charges under the country’s anti-smuggling law.

Prendini said in remarks to the Associated Press that he had permits from the Turkish government to conduct research with Turkish scientists that were ignored by police.

“The police completely ignored this and relied on the testimony of an ‘expert’ who has a conflict of interest with my collaborators… and whose scientific research is highly questionable,” Prendini said. “The police have completely violated due process and it appears they would like to find me guilty in the court of public opinion.”

A collection of various samples in clear plastic bags labeled "AKREP" and "TARANTULA" laid out on a black surface. The bags contain what appear to be preserved scorpions and tarantulas. There are also small bottles lined up at the bottom of the display.

Various scorpion, tarantula, and spider species in plastic bottles and clip-on bags, found in a smuggling operation organized at Istanbul Airport in Turkey, on May 13, 2024. Photo by Bunyamin Çelik/Anadolu via Getty Images

Turkish media had reported that DNA from the species Prendini had sampled could be used to synthesize expensive medication.

Prendini has served as the AMNH’s curator of spiders and myriapods for the past 15 years. His research has taken him to more than 30 countries and, at times, he has faced close calls including being shot at by police in Puerto Rico and interactions with lions and leopards. In addition to his scientific inquiries into arachnids and scorpions, his work has also explored the evolution of insect-plant associations.

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