Customs officers in Ecuador discovered 185 baby Galápagos sea turtles, a critically endangered species, packed inside a suitcase.
The turtles are believed to be less than three months old and were wrapped in plastic and stuffed in the suitcase.
The airport that detected the turtles shared the news on their Facebook page. They revealed that the suitcase, which was transported to the airport via a transport company, was allegedly full of “souvenirs.” It was shipped from Baltra Island on March 28th, 2021, and was headed for Guayaquil, Ecuador.
However, thanks to the X-ray machine operator’s quick wit, most of the turtles now have a second chance at being rehabilitated and living a life of freedom.
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The smugglers had tightly wrapped each turtle in plastic wrap to immobilize them. However, staff at the Galápagos Ecological Airport are well-trained to detect wildlife smuggling and the X-ray operator immediately grew suspicious of the unusual contents in the suitcase.
After calling for a search of the luggage, the 185 turtles were discovered, packed tightly inside. The Galápagos Ecological Airport issued a statement, saying:
“It should be remembered that our Galapagos Ecological Airport is a signatory to the Buckingham Palace Declaration, which seeks to combat trafficking in species in the world, for which we consistently train our staff and commit to notifying the relevant police authorities on shipments suspected of containing illegal wildlife and its products.”
Unfonrutawly, at least 10 of the critically endangered turtles died, according to the Galapagos Conservancy.
While details on the turtles’ origins are still being investigated, the director of the Galapagos Conservancy, Wacho Tapia, believes they were stolen from nests on Santa Cruz Island. As the conservancy reported, he said, “The young tortoises were found in dreadful condition and appear to be extremely underweight. We are in the process of collecting important data, including size and weight, for each tortoise to better assess its health condition.”
According to BBC News, it’s estimated that the 185 turtles could be worth upwards of one million dollars, with each turtle selling for $5,000 or more on the black market. They reported that illegal trading for exotic pet markets and animal collectors poses a massive threat to the dwindling Galápagos tortoise population.
To date, no arrests have been made and no suspects have been identified in this horrendous environmental crime. Police are actively working on the investigation to hopefully get some answers.
As for the turtles, they are being evaluated by a medical team and the appropriate steps will be taken to get them back into their natural habitat as quickly as possible.Whizzco