Wildlife Watch

Canadian Seafood Supplier Smuggled Florida Turtles

In this week’s crime blotter, getting to the bottom of a Canadian turtle import case.

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Florida softshell turtles are prized for their meat. 


Florida softshell turtles grow up to two-feet long and look a bit like pancakes, with their flat carapace that’s cloaked in leathery skin. These freshwater turtles are prized for their meat, especially in Asia. “Tastes better than steak,” Tim Thomas, a turtle breeder from Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2008.

People were plucking so many of them from rivers and ponds that in 2009 Florida banned commercial harvesting of all freshwater turtles—including softshells (with limited exceptions). But a businessman based in Toronto, Canada, still found a way to import them, which violated Canadian law.

Last month a Canadian court ordered Jie Hua Shen, owner of Marine Seafood Inc., to pay $25,000 for smuggling softshell turtles after he pleaded guilty to the crime, reports KelownaNow, a Canadian news site. In December 2013, U.S. and Canadian authorities teamed up to focus on the trade in Florida softshell turtles. Law enforcement eventually seized 40 turtles, which were found to have fish hooks buried in their esophagi, “further indicating that they were captured illegally,” KelownaNow reports.

Some other wildlife crime busts and convictions around the world announced this past week:

MONKEY BUSINESS: Authorities in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, have arrested seven people—four of whom are government officials—in connection with the attempted export of monkeys to Eastern Europe, according to AllAfrica. Police seized the 61 primates at the airport and also busted two Dutch nationals believed to be involved.

TIMBER SWIPING: Police in Andhra Pradesh, a state on the southeastern coast of India, nabbed three people for allegedly smuggling 105 red sanders logs, reports The Hindu. When authorities first attempted to arrest two of the suspects, they tried to escape by pelting stones at the police. The prized wood is native to India and considered endangered.

SNAKES AND SMUGGLERS: Cambodian law enforcement rescued 102 elongated tortoises and 17 pythons from a cargo truck in Kandal province, located in the southeast of the country, according to Mizzima. The creatures were being transported to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, from where they’d have been smuggled to Vietnam, said a forestry official. The driver of the truck fled, and no arrests have been made.

CYPRESS STEALERS: Taiwanese cops busted seven men suspected of illegally logging Formosan cypress, says The China Post. Two of the men, who are Taiwanese (the other five are Vietnamese migrant workers), claimed they didn’t know they were carrying endangered Formosan cypress, which is native to Taiwan. 

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to ngwildlife@ngs.org

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