The Galapagos giant tortoises are endangered and trafficking is one of the threats they face.
Ecuadorian officials arrested a police officer after discovering 185 baby giant tortoises wrapped in plastic in a suitcase, preventing them from smuggling out of the Galapagos Islands.
Officials said the discovery on Sunday was made during a routine check at Seymour Airport, also known as the Galapagos Green Airport, on the Galapagos Island of Baltra, which is part of the Ecuador.
They were detected during the x-ray of the suitcase.
Jorge Rosillo, the airport manager, told the Associated Press news agency that airport authorities “arrested a shipment of 185 turtles on Santa Cruz Island that was to be shipped to Guayaquil airport, we understand, for cash trafficking ”.
Ten of the turtles were found dead, while five others died on Monday “possibly due to the stress they suffered after being separated from their habitat,” Ecuador’s environment ministry said in a statement.
Police officer Nixon Alejandro was arrested and the prosecutor’s office said he would be charged with a felony crime, punishable by three years, the ministry said.
“No second thought is given to these people who do so much harm to society, the environment, health and the ecosystem, we will apply the full weight of the law”, declared the Ecuadorian minister of the Environment, Marcelo Mata. “And as Ecuador’s leading environmental body, we will be ready to work with prosecutors and other authorities.”
#URGENT | During a routine inspection between @aerogalapagos and @galapagos at the airport #Baltra, 185 neonatal turtles were detected in a suitcase which was transferred to mainland Ecuador. Prosecutor’s Office and #UPMA take the procedure. News in development. pic.twitter.com/qXHqmGyukZ
– Ministry of Environment and Water of Ecuador (@Ambiente_Ec) March 28, 2021
Mata said the 170 turtles were being checked by vets to identify their species.
The Galapagos, an archipelago of 19 islands 965 km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, is home to diverse wildlife, including the Galapagos giant tortoise, comprising 12 species.
Some grow to 1.8 m (5.9 feet) and can live over 100 years.
The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living turtle in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Many species of turtles are listed as endangered or critically endangered. One of the threats they face is wildlife trafficking. Smuggled Galapagos turtles can cost around $ 5,000.