Five strangest turtle seizures around the globe
CALGARY HERALD OCTOBER 18, 2014
Border officials around the world have witnessed some bizarre attempts to smuggle turtles across state lines as black-market dealers seek to sell the shelled reptiles as prized pets and food.
Reporter Reid Southwick looks at five of the latest, and strangest, turtle seizures in Calgary and around the globe.
The latest bust in the underground turtle trade came in Calgary, where Canadian border officials seized 11 babies at a shipping warehouse.
During routine checks in early August, officials came across an envelope with a label declaring it contained books. After taking a closer look, the officials discovered the package was stuffed with 11 baby turtles.
The reptiles briefly stayed at the Calgary Zoo before they were transferred to wildlife officials at Environment Canada.
Canadian Border Services would not disclose where the package came from or where it was headed, citing privacy rules.
But the head of the Alberta Reptile and Amphibian Society said turtles are usually smuggled across the U.S. border into Canada as part of an underground pet trade.
Laws prohibit most turtle species from entering Canada, largely because of sanitary concerns — improperly handling them can spread salmonella, said Andrea Hersom, the society’s president.
Depending on the species, turtles can cost $400 to $600.
In 2013, a traveller raised eyebrows at a Chinese international airport when he tried to smuggle a pet turtle through security by disguising it as a burger.
Airport staff became suspicious after an X-ray machine detected something unusual in the man’s bag in July 2013. The traveller claimed it was nothing more than a burger in a KFC package, but airport workers weren’t buying the bluff.
“Sir, are you sure there are no turtles in your bag?” one agent asked, according to a report by The Telegraph.
“There’s no turtle in there — just a hamburger,” the man reportedly replied. “There’s nothing special to see inside.”
Despite the man’s protests, he was forced to leave his jet-setting turtle behind with a friend before boarding a plane.
An Ontario man is accused of concealing 51 live turtles in his sweatpants before attempting to re-enter Canada from the United States in August.
Kai Xu, 26, of Windsor, Ont., allegedly strapped most of the turtles to his legs, and hid others between his legs, but was nabbed when he tried cross the border from Detroit to Windsor.
Xu is now facing charges for smuggling, illegal trading and exporting the reptiles, which included eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders and diamondback terrapins. He could be imprisoned for up to 10 years if convicted.
Co-accused Lihua Lin, of the Toronto area, is facing similar charges after authorities caught up with him at an airport while he was on his way to Shanghai, China. They allegedly found more than 200 North American pond turtles in his checked luggage.
An Ontario man was forced to pay a big fine after Canadian and U.S. officials seized 205 animals, including dozens of turtles, from a boat found near a small community on the St. Lawrence River.
Authorities found three containers filled with exotic animals, including 20 Chinese striped turtles, 20 African side neck turtles and 20 South American red-footed tortoises, along with chameleons and monitor lizards.
Dennis Day, of Cobden, Ont. was ordered to pay $50,000 to an environmental fund following the attempted smuggling by boat near Cornwall, Ont., in August 2010.
Turtle soup, jelly
Border officials in Hong Kong seized more than 10,000 endangered turtles and tortoises that were believed to be heading to Chinese dinner plates in 2003.
The Malayan box turtles and true tortoises, then valued at almost $240,000, were found in a China-bound container marked as holding watermelons.
The endangered species were suspected to be on their way to soup pots, or to be made into “turtle jelly,” described as a gooey substance eaten by southern Chinese who believed it has detoxifying properties.
Smugglers caught with endangered species in Hong Kong could have been jailed for two years and fined more than $875,000 at the time.