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Quito, Feb 6 (IANS/EFE) A court handed down a four-year prison term to a German citizen caught trying to smuggle four iguanas out of the Galapagos islands, authorities at Ecuador's Galapagos National Park said.

Dirk Bender, a 32-year-old lifeguard, was convicted last month after he violated the ban on removing plants or animals from the archipelago.

He was arrested in July 2012 as he prepared to board a commercial flight at the airport on Baltra island. The security scanner detected a suspicious item in one his bags, which on examination turned out to contain two iguanas.

The other two iguanas were found after a sniffer dog alerted guards to the presence of something unusual in another piece of Bender's luggage.

The creatures belong to the species Conolophus subcristatus, listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as "vulnerable", one step short of endangered.

Bender admitted during his trial that he had been detained in Fiji in 2001 for attempting to smuggle iguanas, the park directors said.

He will serve his sentence at a prison in the mainland coastal city of Guayaquil.

The Galapagos Islands, which lie in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km west of the Ecuadorian mainland, served as a natural laboratory that inspired English scientist Charles Darwin to develop his theory about evolution, natural selection and the origin of species.

--IANS/EFE

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