Strange Seizure: Tortoise Smuggler Busted At Galapagos Airport

Customs officials at Seymour Airport (GPS) in the Galapagos Islands have intercepted smugglers trying to take 185 baby tortoises to the mainland illegally. All believed to be under three months old, the reptiles were discovered on Sunday when customs officials X-rayed a red suitcase that was being sent to Guayaquil.

185 baby tortoises found wrapped in plastic. Photo: Bernal Saborio via Wikipedia

When they opened the suitcase, they found that each tortoise had been individually wrapped in plastic and that ten of them had died. Ecuador’s environment minister Marcelo Mata took to social media on Sunday to express his feelings about the matter, saying:

“These are crimes against wildlife and the natural heritage of Ecuadorians.”

He said the tortoises were taken from the wild and that those who survived were now undergoing veterinary reviews.

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Galápagos tortoises are valuable

One of the biggest threats Galápagos tortoises face is illegal trading in the reptiles because of their rarity. Officials combating endangered species’ smuggling say that hatchling-sized juveniles can sell for more than $5,000.

Galápagos tortoises are the largest species, with some weighing as much as 417 kilograms (919 pounds). They are also one of the longest-living vertebrates, with a life span of more than 100 years. When Spanish explorers discovered the islands by mistake while sailing from Panama to Peru in 1535, they noted the exotic species and called the discovery the “Insulae de los Galopegos” (Islands of the Tortoises).

The tortoises can live more than 100 years. Photo: Aeropuerto Ecológico Galápagos

When English naturalist Charles Darwin and the Beagle visited the islands for the second time in 1835, he noticed that the tortoise’s shell size and shape varied from island to island. On islands that were higher and humid, the reptiles were bigger than on lower and dry islands. These observations helped him develop his theory of evolution that all species have descended over time from common ancestors.

A policeman has been arrested

Following on from his tweet, the New York Times says that Mr Mata announced that a police officer, Nixon Alejandro, had been arrested on Monday. The case is being investigated by the Ministry of the Environment and by state prosecutors. Investigators say that Mr Alejandro will be charged with harm to wild flora and fauna and that he could face up to three years in prison.

 Galápagos tortoise
Ten of the tortoises were dead. Photo: Aeropuerto Ecológico Galápagos

Up to three years in jail is hardly a sufficient punishment for a crime that would have netted the perpetrator hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then there is the fact that the man they arrested was a police officer who should have known better.

Getting to the Galapagos Islands

Located about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador, the easiest way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from either the capital Quito or Ecuador’s largest city Guayaquil.

Both Avianca Ecuador and LATAM Ecuador fly from Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Quito and from Aeropuerto Internacional José Joaquín De Olmedo (GYE) in Guayaquil. Flying from Quito to the island of Baltra takes two hours and with Guayaquil being on the Pacific coast it only take one and a half hours.

What do you think about people smuggling animals? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.