185 baby tortoises found inside suitcase at Galapagos Islands airport

185 baby tortoises found inside suitcase at Galapagos Islands airport (msn.com)

Cameron Jenkins  5 hrs ago

California parents of 5 killed by falling redwood treePotent cold front crashes east across U.S., with plunging temperatures…

Staff at a Galapagos Islands airport discovered 185 baby tortoises wrapped in plastic in a suitcase Sunday morning.a chair sitting in front of a body of water: 185 baby tortoises found inside suitcase at Galapagos Islands airport© Getty Images 185 baby tortoises found inside suitcase at Galapagos Islands airport

Officials at the Seymour Airport, located on the island of Baltra, just 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, called the incident an attempt to smuggle the reptiles off the island, according to USA Today.

Airport X-ray machines detected the tortoises when they sensed irregularities in a red suitcase. Staff opened the suitcase to discover 185 of the baby reptiles, including 10 that had died, the news outlet reported.

Ecuador’s environment minister, Marcelo Mata shared a tweet Sunday saying the incident was a crime “against wildlife and the natural heritage of Ecuadorians,” USA Today reported.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1376244971196592128&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fthehill.com%2Fhomenews%2Fnews%2F545523-185-baby-tortoises-found-inside-suitcase-at-galapagos-islands-airport&theme=light&widgetsVersion=e1ffbdb%3A1614796141937&width=550px

He said that the surviving tortoises have since been taken for veterinary reviews.

As of Monday, no charges were filed in connection to the incident, though Ecuador’s national police and environmental police are conducting investigations. The owners of the suitcase were also reportedly held for questioning, USA Today reported.

The smuggling of any animal from the islands can result in up to three years in prison, the news outlet noted.

Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Tragic tale of India’s illicit turtle trafficking industry

Despite being protected under numerous laws, tens of thousands of turtles and tortoises continue to be poached across India each year, writes Namita Singh

3 days ago comments


<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/03/04/16/GettyImages-166292519.jpg?width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quality=75&quot; alt="<p>File Image: Newly-hatched Olive Ridley turtles make their way to the ocean at a beach in the Indian state of Odisha

File Image: Newly-hatched Olive Ridley turtles make their way to the ocean at a beach in the Indian state of Odisha(Getty Images)

ometimes it’s the SUVs, sometimes a Mercedes, other times a sedan, but this time it was a closed container carrier truck being used to transport turtles in India.

Law enforcement agencies had sprung into action when they were tipped off about the consignment that was on its way from the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal, which shares its borders with Bangladesh. 

Police believe if all had gone to plan, the two suspects, now in custody, would have successfully transported the turtles to the animal markets in West Bengal. There, the reptiles would have either been sold as meat to the locals or exported across the border.

“The accused had stuffed more than 1,300 Indian Softshell turtles in 37 big gunny bags,” H V Girisha, an Indian Forest Service officer and regional deputy director for the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau told The Independent. The turtles, which normally have a lifespan of somewhere between 20 to 50 years, could not endure the stress of the journey and conditions in which they were kept, and about 30 of them had died.  Pandemic Pets Has Led to ‘Mafia-Style’ Puppy Tradehttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.446.1_en.html#goog_1648242297

“When we opened the seized bags, we found that 1,283 of them were alive, 13 were severely injured and 30 were almost dead,” said Mr Girisha. The entire consignment and the truck itself were then seized. 


We are working with conservation charities Space for Giants and Freeland to protect wildlife at risk from poachers due to the conservation funding crisis caused by Covid-19. Help is desperately needed to support wildlife rangers, local communities and law enforcement personnel to prevent wildlife crime. Donate to help Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade HERE

The trade of turtles and tortoises is illegal in India. Most of these reptiles are protected under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and their international trade is further regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which India has been a signatory since 1976. 

Placed under schedule – I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, turtles and tortoises have the highest level of legal protection in the country. “So if a species protected under the schedule – I of the Wild Life Protection Act, their trade invite a minimum of three years of imprisonment extendable to seven years. It is a non-bailable, cognisable offence,” Jose Louies, deputy director and chief of the Wildlife Crime Control Division at Wildlife Trust of India told The Independent. “They, therefore, have legal protection which is at par with big cats like tiger and leopard.” Please enter your email addressPlease enter a valid email addressPlease enter a valid email addressSIGN UPI would like to be emailed about offers, events and updates from The Independent.Read our privacy notice

But despite the high level of protection, their trade is flourishing. A 2019 report by TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring organisation, found that a minimum of 100,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles were illegally traded between September 2009 and September 2019 in India. about:blankabout:blankhttps://26eb9ca206948afa8cb32ab292bf67c7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmljavascript:false

The trade of these animals is so rampant, they were observed to be illegally transported through roadways, railways and airways. 

A 2017 research by Freeland, one of two charities The Independent  is working with as part of its Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade, found at least 15 of India’s 28 tortoise and freshwater turtle (TFT) species were illegally harvested between 2011 and 2015.Top ArticlesREAD MOREStarmer’s clash over NHS pay was dull, but it madeJohnson squirm | John RentoulSKIP AD

The research, conducted in association with Turtle Survival Alliance- India, found about 58,000 live animals were seized during this period across India, Bangladesh, Thailand and China, nearly 90 per cent of which were being traded illegally. Of these, over 70 per cent of seizures were made in transit. 

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But it is not just the meat, for which these reptiles are traded. There is also a superstitious and mythological value attached to them. “According to Hindu mythological text, they are said to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, so there is a belief that with it, goddess Laxmi– the goddess of money and prosperity– would also come along,” Mr Louies said. “Across different cultures, they are believed to bring in luck.” 

Turtles and tortoises are also pretty low maintenance pets. “Any reptile is very easy to keep. In fact, you can send a turtle or tortoise by courier. Even they do not eat for two or three days, as long as they are not bashed around, the tortoise or turtle would survive and reach in as good a condition as it was sent,” said Aniruddha Mookerjee, a consultant wildlife adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University. 

Yet, despite their ability to withstand tough conditions, their rehabilitation after the seizure is a big concern among wildlife activists and experts. 

“When an animal is put in gunny bags for days, it would be under high stress,” said Mr Girisha. “They have to be relaxed and need immediate medical attention for conditioning them before they are sent to the natural environment. The doctor there has to make an assessment, whether the reptile is healthy enough to be released into the wild.” 

“The welfare issues in this trade are really abysmal,” added Mr Mookerjee. “They are taped up, not fed for many many days and are exported miles away from the natural environment they are endemic to. Obviously, trade mortality is very very high.” 

“In fact, in many of the places where they are rescued, people do not know whether they are water turtles or dry land turtles and they are released in the water body. The reptile drowns and dies,” he said. 

Another concern about releasing an alien turtle into freshwater bodies is that they could overpower the native population and become dominant there, as seen in the case of the American red-eared slider turtle. Though native to the central and eastern United States, the species was accidentally released to the Sukhna Lake in the north Indian state of Punjab and is now dominating other reptiles found in the area. 

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/03/04/16/GettyImages-540654146.jpg?width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quality=75&quot; alt="<p>File Image: An Indian star tortoise uses a prosthetic wheel fitted after an injury to move around an enclosure at the Araingar Anna Zoological park in Chennai on 16 June 2016

File Image: An Indian star tortoise uses a prosthetic wheel fitted after an injury to move around an enclosure at the Araingar Anna Zoological park in Chennai on 16 June 2016(AFP via Getty Images)

While the turtle and tortoise trade has been a menace in India for a long time, it did not always receive this level of protection domestically or internationally. 

The concern was first raised seriously in 17th Conference of Parties of CITES held in 2016 in Johannesburg. The international body undertook an investigation according to which between 2000 to 2015, more than 300,000 turtles and tortoise were illegally traded across the world.  

Among those, Indian Star Tortoise accounted for roughly 35,000. “More than 10 per cent. This is when we did not know the actual scale of the illegal trade in freshwater turtle and tortoise trade. The real numbers would be much higher,” said Mr Girisha. 

In fact, a separate study published in the journal Nature Conservation by WildCRU showed that in 2014 alone, at least 55,000 Indian Star Tortoises were poached in India.  

“Star tortoise, which is endemic to India is largely traded for petting purposes mostly because these are ornamental species,” explained Mr Mookerjee, one of the co-authors of the study. “These are ornamental but it is believed that some part of it is also sent to China where it is believed to be consumed as food.” 

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In a boost to India’s bid to protect endangered animal species, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva in August 2019 banned illegal international trade of Indian star tortoise, as it moved the species to Appendix I, giving it the highest level of international protection from commercial trade. 

Earlier, the species was in Appendix II of the CITES, under which their trade was not completely restricted but regulated. 

“Turtles are natural scavengers of the aquatic ecosystem. They help in cleaning the river by scavenging dead organic material and diseased fish, controlling fish population and other aquatic plants and weeds” explained Mr Girisha. And this is what makes them such an important part of India’s Ganga rejuvenation programme called Namami Gange, he said. 

But despite, such strict regulations, the cross border trade of turtles and tortoise continues with impunity. “In true sense, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 is a strict law. But there are weaknesses in the enforcement system,” said Mr Girisha, elaborating on the implementation-related roadblock that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of India and other enforcement agencies face. 

“There is no deployment of forest officers in the Indo-Gangetic Plain for they are supposed to be deployed in forested areas. That is not where the trade of these reptiles happens. It happens in crowded places like towns and villages located alongside the riverbank.” 

“More importantly, the forest department of the country does not have an intelligence unit of its own, to process and convert the tip-offs into actionable inputs,” said Mr Girisha. “In essence, we do not have a robust system in place that backs the act.” 

Thousands of turtles have been rescued from freezing waters in Texas

By Maria Morava and Scottie Andrew, CNN

Updated 1:40 PM ET, Thu February 18, 2021


See massive rescue of freezing sea turtles

Now PlayingSee massive rescue of…See massive rescue of freezing sea turtles 01:55

(CNN)As Texas’ deep freeze wreaks havoc on land, sea animals also suffer in its icy waters.This week, more than 2,600 turtles have been rescued around South Padre Island at the southern tip of the state.Volunteers and wildlife officials scouring bays and beaches for stranded turtles suffering from “cold-stun,” a condition which inhibits turtles’ mobility and often results in stranding.Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit in South Padre Island, rescued more than 2,500at-riskturtlesfrom nearby waters. It’s collecting hundreds by the day.The facility, which already housed turtles in its hospital, rehabilitation and education centers, hasbeen overwhelmed by the amount of rescues performed since temperatures dropped.”We have been so pleased with the community acceptance,” Wendy Knight, the executive director at Sea Turtle Inc. said in a Facebook video. “But all of these efforts will be in vain if we do not soon get power restored to our facility.”CNN has reached out to the organization, which is still suffering from power outages, and is awaiting a reply.Texas Game Wardens rescued 141 sea turtles from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays in the last week. Texas Game Wardens rescued 141 sea turtles from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays in the last week.On Wednesday, Texas Game Wardens rescued at least 141 turtles from the Brownsville Ship Channel, near South Padre Island. Turtles of all sizes rested on the deck of its large rescue vessel and were taken to nearby facilities, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokeswoman Megan Radke told CNN.

Turtles can’t survive in extremely cold water

The rescue effort began immediately for the Texas Game Wardens and the team at Sea Turtle Inc., who knew that turtles — unlike other sea animals — are unable to survive in extreme cold temperatures.While animals like dolphins or manatees are able to regulate their body temperatures internally, sea turtles’ body temperatures vary with surrounding water.At very low temperatures, turtles can become cold-stunned.According to the National Park Service, cold-stunned turtles are not able to move well. They become lethargic and often float to the surface or wash up onshore.This can lead to death from shock or predation, or from boat strikes.According to Sea Turtle Inc’s Facebook page, the storm is the biggest sea turtle cold-stunning event to happen in south Texas.

With a new generator, turtles have hope, for now

On Wednesday, SpaceX provided Sea Turtle Inc. with a generator large enough to cover the organization’s rehabilitation, education and conservation facilities, Knightsaid in a Facebook video.Because of the generator, turtles already housed at the facilities, along with newcomers, have been able to warm up.

Cuddling penguins and snorkeling alligators: What animals do to stay warm during extreme cold

Cuddling penguins and snorkeling alligators: What animals do to stay warm during extreme coldBut the prolonged power outage has blown out all 10 of the facility’s heaters and coolers, and each costs thousands of dollars to replace.Despite this, the team at Sea Turtle, Inc. remains hopeful.”For today, the sun is bright. SpaceX has provided us with a generator,” Knight said. “And we are moving forward.”

Animal casualties are on the rise in Texas

Turtles are not the only animals at risk in the winter storm.This week, several animals — mostly primates — froze to death at a primate sanctuary in San Antonio.

When the weather tested Texans’ mettle, they responded with hospitalityThe sanctuary, strapped for warming devices, evacuated animals to other facilities while trying to keep the rest as warm as possible with donated supplies.As Sea Turtle Inc. is pushed to capacity, the organization has begun using the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau for more space.They are asking for donations on their Facebook page, where they continues to issue updates.Those who have found sea turtles are encouraged to call Sea Turtle Inc’s emergency sea turtle line at 956-243-4361 or the Turtle Island Restoration Network at 1-866-TURTLE5.

Georgia turtle trapper accused of illegally trapping thousands of freshwater turtles

By FOX 5 Atlanta Digital TeamPublished 4 days agoPets and AnimalsFOX 5 Atlanta


Sea turtles rescued from cold

Four sea turtles were rescued and are being cared for at the Georgia Aquarium after they were caught in winter weather up north (Credit: Georgia Aquarium).

ATLANTA – A prolific turtle trapper is accused of illegally trapping and exporting thousands of freshwater turtles in Georgia.

Nathan Horton, 36, was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly violating the Lacey Act, which regulates the trafficking and labeling of wildlife, fish, and plants.  Ad Content by Taboola | Sponsored StoriesNow presenting: Potential home and auto savings!Progressive | Auto Insurance Quotes|Sponsored The Best Credit Cards For Huge RewardsNerdWallet|Sponsored 

According to the indictment, beginning by at least July 2015 and continuing until at least July 2017, Horton shipped thousands of freshwater turtles from Georgia to California that had been trapped using turtle nets that were illegal under Georgia law. Although Horton held a Commercial Turtle Permit during this time and GA-DNR sends all commercial permit holders the applicable Georgia statutes and GA-DNR regulations on turtle traps, Horton repeatedly used illegal traps to capture freshwater turtles. In October 2016 and August 2017, while holding a commercial permit, GA-DNR cited Horton for using illegal traps to capture freshwater turtles, the indictment stated.

Among the species of turtles Horton allegedly trapped illegally were: Stripe-necked musk turtle (Sternotherus minor peltifer), Loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor), Common musk turtle or stinkpot or eastern musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), and Eastern mud turtles (Kinosternon subrubrum).

While India Is On Lockdown, Olive Ridley Turtles Start Nesting On Odisha Coast

From pollution levels reducing drastically to now marine life being able to breathe in peace, it seems like the coronavirus lockdown is seriously helping nature recoup.


Olive Ridley sea turtles have come ashore for mass nesting at the six-kilometre-long Rushikulya beach of Odisha’s Ganjam district in the last five days and it’s owing to the coronavirus lockdown.

These rare sea turtles are renowned for their mass nesting and come to Indian shores and Odisha’s coast every nesting season; the areas are their largest nesting site in the region. According to the Odisha Wildlife Organisation ( OWO), nearly 50 per cent of the world population of these rare turtles come to Odisha’s coast for nesting.

On March 22 at around 2 am, 2,000 female Olive Ridleys started coming out of the sea to the beach, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Amlan Nayak, told The Hindu. 

Ankit Kumar, IFS@AnkitKumar_IFS

ARRIBADA ~Spanish Word – means ‘Arrival’ 🐢
Refers to mass-nesting event when 1000s of Turtles come ashore at the same time to lay eggs on the same beach.
Interestingly, females return to the very same beach from where they first hatched, to lay their eggs.
🏖️ Olive Ridley Turtle

View image on Twitter
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NC animal rescue group wants your old bra to help save injured turtles

By Amanda Foster  |

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – It sounds bizarre, but it’s also true. The clips on the backs of bras can save a turtle.

It sounds bizarre, but it’s also true. The clips on the backs of bras can save a turtle. (Carolina Waterfowl Rescue)

“It acts like a little fixator, it’s the eyelets that we need,” Keenan Freitas at the Carolina Waterfowl Rescue says.

The group, you could say, is after your unused unmentionables. These are the same people who spend most of their time among a team of injured turtles.

“80 percent of them are hit by cars,” Freitas says. “The other five percent are hit by boats, the remaining are environmental.”

When these sometimes shattered shells come in, they’re not in good shape, and in the summer, there are quite a bit more of them.

“It’s when it rains,” Freitas says. “That’s when they’re moving to lay eggs, so when it rains, we get a ton of turtles in.”

The team repairs the reptiles using some expected instruments like glue, and a little tape.

And, bra clasps.

“It’s just these little ingenious things that people have created in the past, that we can use today to help animals out,” Freitas says.

The wire that holds the broken portions of shell together is fastened to the turtle with these things that usually might lock together lingerie.

“You basically wire the shell back together,” Freitas says.

It’s affordable for this nonprofit – and sustainable.

“You can recycle something that would go into a landfill,” Freitas says. “And I mean, they’re helping a turtle. Who wouldn’t want to help a turtle?”

Freitas says when it’s time to release the reptiles back into the wild, they wear the glue down a little, the clasps pop right off, and they’re good as new.

Donations can be sent to the Carolina Waterfowl Rescue at P.O. Box 1484 in Indian Trail NC 28079

Copyright 2019 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Read the original version of this article at wbtv.com.

UK government directs £4.6 million to tackling illegal wildlife trade

LIFE 22 April 2019
turtle shells

Can we halt the trade?


The UK government has announced it will provide £4.6 million in funding for projects tackling illegal wildlife trade around the world. They include efforts to stop smuggling in Madagascar, to disrupt the grey parrot trade in Cameroon and to reduce demand for marine turtle products in Nicaragua.

The global trade in illegal wildlife products is estimated to be worth between 7 and 23 billion US dollars a year. It is responsible for putting species such as pangolinsrhinos and tigers in danger of extinction.

The UK has pledged to spend £36 million to fight illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021. The new projects are among a series of actions to emerge from a major conference held in London last October.

“The Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund is backing projects that will tackle the criminals at source and in countries that are destinations for items made from illegally traded plants and animals,” environment minister Thérèse Coffey said in a statement.

The government is also drawing on expertise in behaviour change science to recommend the most effective approaches to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products, such as environmental education and social marketing.

Another initiative, the Wildlabs Tech Hub, has brought together conservationists and engineers to develop new technological tools to combat wildlife crime, with support from Google and Arm.

“It’s hugely encouraging to see efforts under way to address key drivers of illegal wildlife trade, in particular to tackle illicit financial flows,” says Richard Thomas of Traffic, an NGO focusing on global wildlife trade.

Two issues that require more attention are corruption – a key facilitator of wildlife crime – and cybercrime, Thomas says. “The latter is a rising threat, in part because of successful efforts in shutting down physical market places, which has led to more transactions going online where they are more difficult to regulate.”

Last Female of World’s Rarest Turtle Species Dies in China Zoo

Booming black market for deadly snakes and exotic turtles puts animals in peril

By Sammy Fretwell The State (Columbia, S.C.) Jul 31, 2018 Updated 4 hrs ago (0)
Exotic animals
An Asian Box Turtle peers from its enclosure at the Turtle Survival Center. The South Carolina preserve protects some of the world’s most endangered turtles.

Tracy Glantz / The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. —The death of Freddie “Snakeman” Herman was unsettling enough for criminal investigators when they arrived at his ramshackle mobile home on a steamy morning last summer.

Herman’s body lay on the ground, lifeless from gunshot wounds. Flies swarmed in the yard, leaving little doubt Herman had been dead for hours.

But as they surveyed the murder scene in Chesterfield County, investigators learned that Herman was more than the victim of a domestic homicide. He was an international wildlife dealer they knew nothing about in a state where black market animal sales are quietly growing.

Snakes writhed in Herman’s trailer and turtles splashed in backyard holding ponds, apparently awaiting shipment. On Herman’s computer, state natural resources investigators found electronic messages with mysterious wildlife brokers, as well as $76,000 in an account that they believe was filled with the proceeds of animal sales.

The discovery provided a new window into South Carolina’s illicit and loosely regulated wildlife trade, a shadowy but lucrative industry that is imperiling native species, threatening to spread disease and attracting crooks to the Palmetto State.

And it’s all happening in a state with limited ability to deal with the problem.

Wild animals, particularly reptiles, are being cruelly packaged in tiny cartons and shipped overseas, many dying en route because they have no food or water. Other animals collected for sale in South Carolina are beginning to dwindle in their native environments, which could upset the balance of nature in swamps and woodlands across the state.

Reptiles, including dangerous snakes and rare turtles, often sought as food or exotic pets, are the major concern. But state investigators also are worried about the sale of disease-carrying hogs and deer, rare fish, and black bear parts such as gallbladders and paws.

“It’s significant,” state wildlife agency spokesman Robert McCullough said of the illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade. “There is enough going on out there to cause us concern.”

Some dealers are trading native wildlife without getting caught because the state lacks officers. In Herman’s case, state investigators say they were stunned to learn the extent of his operation in Chesterfield County.

Other dealers are legally selling animals, such as highly venomous snakes, that could not be easily sold in other states with stricter wildlife laws.

A recent South Carolina Department of Natural Resources report said the agency is seeing an increase in people from other states bringing reptiles to South Carolina, then exporting them, because of the state’s limited wildlife laws. The agency also is seeing evidence that more people are trapping turtles and other reptiles for resale to other states, the report said.

It’s a significant enough issue that the DNR has assigned a handful of undercover agents to investigate illicit wildlife trading, even as state policymakers consider ways to strengthen minimal wildlife laws and provide more staff members to catch rogue animal dealers.

Wildlife traffickers get involved in the business because of the world’s insatiable demand for animals and the profits dealers can make when they sell wildlife. In a single year, some dealers have reportedly made
$100,000 selling turtles, snakes and other reptiles.

Unlike in many states, it’s legal in South Carolina to buy a venomous cobra at a wildlife show or collect hundreds of turtles for potential sale to pet traders in Asia. It’s legal to buy a camel or porcupine at an animal auction with relatively few restrictions. And it’s legal for a handful of people to harvest rare baby eels, which can fetch $2,000 per pound in Asia.

Chad Welch, an investigator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said South Carolina’s lack of wildlife trading laws sometimes encourages illicit importing of wildlife into Georgia, where restrictions on reptile sales are stronger.

“It’s easier to acquire wild animals when you can take a couple of hours’ drive to South Carolina, buy them and bring them right back,” he said.

Recently, a Florida man with a criminal record received permission from Georgia authorities to import 220 highly venomous snakes from Africa through the Atlanta airport — if he agreed to ship them to South Carolina within 24 hours after they landed. The shipment, coming from a contact in North Ghana, included spitting cobras and Gaboon vipers, toxic snakes popular in the reptile trade. The man planned to sell them here.

In another recently publicized case, a major player in an international turtle-trafficking scheme pleaded guilty in federal court to wildlife charges after admitting he was shipping and receiving highly endangered turtles from his home in South Carolina. State authorities say loopholes in state wildlife laws made it easier for him to operate out of his house in Holly Hill.

According to an internal Department of Natural Resources report, South Carolina is one of five states with few or no laws regulating the ownership and sale of reptiles. The report says wildlife traders are slippery, well-connected and hard to catch.

“Many of the exporters operate in multiple states,” says the DNR report.
“They will set up multiple residences or change residences often in states with lax reptile laws. They have a network of collectors who collect with or for them to fulfill orders. They communicate better than we do.”

According to the DNR’s internal report, the Herman investigation revealed new ways that wildlife traders communicate and how they are paid for selling animals on the black market.

The DNR, for instance, says Herman was using an internet chatroom for video game enthusiasts to communicate with a wildlife buyer.
Correspondence found on Herman’s computer shows that he was discussing the price of reptiles and how they could be exported to Europe.

“In Germany and France, they pay $800 to $1,200 per pair,” the chatroom note said. In the five months prior to his death, Herman received at least 11 Western Union payments from Hong Kong totaling $19,000, according to information the DNR obtained through the investigation. The agency said he was known at a Florence mailing center for regularly shipping packages filled with small animals.

A DNR informant, who asked not be named because he deals with wildlife traffickers, said he routinely gets text messages from Asian buyers seeking turtles.

In a string of texts obtained by The State newspaper, a buyer said he wanted 10 turtles shipped through Chicago, where he had friends. The potential buyer at one point suggested having the turtles shipped through Massachusetts and Florida, but the informant said “No, lol, they will put you in jail” in the Sunshine State, according to the string of texts.

Weak state laws in South Carolina encourage the growth of illegal dealing by making it easier for people to amass large numbers of animals for sale on the black market.

That’s particularly true with reptiles. While the state restricts the export of many types of turtles, the law doesn’t restrict people from owning as many of those species as they want, said Will Dillman, an agency reptile biologist and assistant wildlife chief.

Some out-of-state turtle trappers bring their catch to South Carolina and keep animals here until they can resell them to other countries — a practice called “turtle laundering.” Turtles are important to the environment because they spread seeds that lead to plant growth and make dens that can be used by other animals. They also are vital to keeping ponds clean because they scavenge for dead fish and other animals in the water.

Many of the wildlife cases made in South Carolina are brought by the federal government, which has more consistent and stricter laws than states do. But federal prosecutors have more than their share of cases that take a higher priority than wildlife crimes.

Some counties and cities in South Carolina, including the city of Columbia and Richland County, have exotic pet laws that limit venomous snake ownership and sales. But others do not. That allows wildlife shows to set up shop in counties like Lexington and sell venomous reptiles.

“We have a patchwork of different state laws on some species,” said Iris Ho, a senior wildlife policy specialist with the Humane Society International. “Something could be protected in one state, but not in another, like South Carolina.”

Law enforcement authorities have said some restrictions are needed because drug dealers sometimes also trade in wildlife. In some cases, when officers show up for a drug bust, they have run into dangerous reptiles, authorities say.

Some legitimate wildlife dealers say they could support stricter state oversight of some types of wildlife dealing to weed out the shady businesses that give their industry a bad name.

“There are a lot of weird people importing stuff they ain’t supposed to be importing,” wildlife dealer Jonathan McMillan said during a break in a June 9 Repticon wildlife show at the Greenville Shrine Club. “They’re out catching things just to catch them and they are shipping stuff out that is not supposed to be shipped out of the country. There are a couple of bad apples.”

South Carolina’s issues with wildlife trafficking are a piece of a global problem that generates up to $20 billion in sales annually, according to the Humane Society International. Everything from elephant tusks to turtle meat can be found on the international black market.

Reptiles are the biggest wildlife commodity being moved illegally in the Southeast, largely because the area has such a rich diversity of the animals — and many of them, like turtles, are easy to catch, experts say.

Depending on the species, a single turtle can fetch upwards of $10,000 on the black market in Asia. Rattlesnakes from South Carolina can easily sell for $200 in places like New York, where collectors seek exotic animals, according to the S.C. DNR.

That translates to a nice income for some traders. In one case, a Holly Hill man with an extensive criminal record from wildlife trading earned more than $100,000 one year, according to a neighbor and law enforcement authorities.

Even people not involved in illegal wildlife trafficking say it’s common knowledge that selling reptiles is lucrative.

“It’s something everybody knows you can make good money on,” said Daniel Bibby, an Orangeburg County resident who lives next door to Steven Baker, a wildlife trader with a history of violations.

Some species that once were nearly worthless have soared to thousands of dollars apiece, only to fall again once the thrill of owning that species has waned, said Jordan Gray, a spokesman for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an international reptile protection group headquartered in Charleston.

“The way turtles and tortoises go, it’s almost like clothing purchases for a season,” Gray said. “You see these fads.”

Black bear parts, such as skins, gallbladders and paws, also are highly sought after in some Asian countries for traditional medicines or as souvenirs. A bear gallbladder will reportedly sell for up to $3,000 in China, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In South Carolina, where bear hunting is legal, the DNR recently ticketed men in North Augusta and Spartanburg for trying to deal other bear parts.

In one of the cases, a suspect was trying to sell a bear skin, with the claws attached, for about $1,800, a law enforcement source said. After he was ticketed, the man suspected of trying to sell the bear skin said “‘Thanks,’ then three days later, he had posted it up for sale again,”
the law enforcement source told The State.

The other bear case included the sale of skulls, claws and other parts, which were offered for sale for about $10,500, according to the DNR.

Illegally harvesting baby eels for sale to Asia landed three South Carolina men in hot water two years ago after federal investigators discovered they had trafficked more than $740,000 worth of the eels. All three pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that governs illegal wildlife trafficking. South Carolina grants 10 permits for people to harvest the little eels, making any other harvest illegal.

While South Carolina law offers few limits on the sale of dangerous snakes and many types of reptiles, the state does have stronger laws to control the trade in other species, such as wild hogs and deer, according to the DNR. The Legislature also recently banned the ownership and sale of big exotic cats, such as African lions and American cougars, as well as chimpanzees and non-native bears.

But it’s not hard to break state laws and get away with it because of limited state resources, DNR spokesman McCullough said.

Trucks filled with hogs sometimes sneak across the state line because South Carolina doesn’t have enough wildlife officers to stop the movement, McCullough and DNR big game coordinator Charles Ruth said. The pigs are usually headed to hunting preserves to give shooters a better chance at bagging a hog. Unfortunately, some of the pigs escape and are adding to the state’s wild hog problem, according to the DNR.

The agency needs more than 300 officers, but today has 265, McCullough said. Its special investigative unit has six agents who also investigate wildlife crimes aside from illegal trading.

Sometimes, the DNR does catch people trying to bring in hogs. Last fall, the agency arrested a Georgia man for illegally importing 10 wild pigs to Edgefield County. He was found guilty in magistrate’s court in December, records show.

The illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade affects South Carolina both in what is being brought here, and what is being shipped to overseas markets.

Among the native animals in peril are box turtles and spotted turtles — rare reptiles with fragile populations that scientists say are harder to find today than in years past.

Turtles are being shipped to China and other Asian countries, where many native reptiles have disappeared, to be used as pets or food. Scientists are particularly worried about what appear to be dwindling turtle populations in an area between Orangeburg and Walterboro, where many people busted for wildlife crimes operate.

“We know there are people out there collecting,” former DNR biologist Bennett said. “But there’s not always a way to enforce things, to check up on these people. If you happen to catch one occasionally, that’s fine.”


Texas Proposes Ending Unsustainable Commercial Wild Turtle Trapping


AUSTIN, Texas— In response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several Texas-based conservation organizations, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission today approved publication of a proposed rule that would prohibit commercial collection of the state’s wild turtles.

“We’re so grateful these badly needed protections for Texas’ rare, native turtles are moving forward,” said Jenny Loda, a Center attorney and biologist who works to protect vulnerable reptiles and amphibians. “For-profit collectors shouldn’t be allowed to put the state’s turtles at risk of extinction.”

Texas is the latest in a growing list of states — including Missouri, New York and Iowa — that have put an end to unlimited commercial collection of freshwater turtles.

Under current Texas law, unlimited collection of four native, freshwater turtle species is allowed on private property: common snapping turtles, red-eared sliders, smooth softshells and spiny softshells.

Texas modified its regulations in 2007 to protect freshwater turtles from collection on the state’s public lands and waters. But this only resulted in protections for turtles in 2.2 percent of the water bodies in Texas. Recent studies concluded that current turtle collection in Texas is likely not sustainable.

At today’s Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting, staff from the state Parks and Wildlife Department presented their findings based on a review of the petition, along with scientific literature and the department’s own data. Department staff determined that there is sufficient scientific justification to prohibit the commercial collection of the common snapping turtle, red-eared slider, smooth softshell and spiny softshell.

Department officials further explained that turtles are among the nongame species of greatest concern in Texas. Turtles’ slow reproduction makes it unlikely that populations can remain stable when high numbers of adults and older juveniles are steadily removed from a population.

“This is great news for Texas’ freshwater turtles as commercial trapping is devastating to turtle populations that are already suffering from multiple other threats, including habitat loss, water pollution and vehicular collisions,” said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “We hope that the state will finalize the proposed rule and ban commercial turtle trapping; otherwise, Texas’ turtle populations will continue to plummet.”

The petition that spurred today’s action was submitted last year by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, Texas Rivers Protection Association and Texas Snake Initiative.

Millions of turtles classified as wild-caught are exported from the United States every year to supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where native turtle populations have already been depleted by soaring consumption. Because turtles bioaccumulate toxins from prey and burrow in contaminated sediment, turtle meat is often laced with mercury, PCBs and pesticides, posing a health risk. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.

As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity has been petitioning states that allow unrestricted commercial turtle collection to improve their regulations. Earlier this month, in response to a Center petition, the Missouri Department of Conservation banned commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles. In September of last year, Nevada created a statewide ban on the destructive commercial collection of all reptiles and New York halted all commercial terrapin turtle harvesting.

Before that, in March 2017, Iowa adopted new regulations setting closed seasons and possession limits for commercial turtle trappers. In 2012 Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles, and Alabama completely banned commercial collection. And in 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters.

Texas is in a regional hotspot for commercial turtle collectors, and reform is needed. If the state ends commercial collection within its borders, adjacent states would likely follow its example; the region would be better equipped to protect its turtle populations by making clear to turtle traders that trade is strictly regulated and enforced.

The Center recently petitioned for a ban on unlimited commercial trapping in ArkansasLouisiana  and Oklahoma, three states that share a border with Texas.

Texas spiny softshell turtle

Texas spiny softshell turtle photo by Gary M. Stolz, USFWS. This image is available for media use.