The giant tortoises of Galapagos are endangered, being trafficked is one of the threats they face.
Ecuadoran officials have arrested a police officer after 185 baby giant tortoises wrapped in plastic were discovered in a suitcase, preventing them from being smuggled out of the Galapagos islands.
Officials said the discovery was made during a routine check at the Seymour airport on the Galapagos island Baltra, part of Ecuador. They were detected when the suitcase was X-rayed.
“The Galapagos Ecological Airport, through their Ecuador Cargo Terminal Ecuador personnel, stopped a shipment of 185 tortoises on the Santa Cruz island that was to be shipped to Guayaquil Airport, we understand, for the trafficking of species,” Jorge Rosillo, Manager of Galapagos Ecological Airport told the Associated Press.
Ten of the tortoises were dead. Five more died on Monday “possibly due to the stress they suffered after being separated from their habitat” the Ecuadorean Ministry of the Environment said in a statement.
Police officer Nixon Alejandro was arrested and the office of the prosecutor said he would be charged with a crime against wild flora and fauna, carrying a three-year sentence, 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,” Ecuador’s Minister of Environment Marcelo Mata said. “And as Ecuador’s main environmental body, we will be ready to collaborate with prosecutors and other authorities.”
#URGENTE | Durante una inspección rutinaria entre @aerogalapagos y @parquegalapagos en el aeropuerto de #Baltra, se detectaron 185 tortugas neonatos en una maleta que se trasladaba al Ecuador continental. Fiscalía y #UPMA están tomando procedimiento. Noticia en desarrollo. pic.twitter.com/qXHqmGyukZ
— Ministerio del Ambiente y Agua de Ecuador (@Ambiente_Ec) March 28, 2021
Mata said the 170 tortoises were taken from the wild and being checked by veterinarians to identify their species.
The Galapagos, an archipelago of 19 islands 600 miles (965 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador, is home to diverse wildlife, including the Galapagos giant tortoise, comprising 12 species. Some grow to be up to 5.9 feet (1.8 metres) and can live over 100 years and are the largest living tortoise in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Many of the species of tortoises are listed as endangered or critically endangered. Wildlife trafficking is one of the threats they face. Smuggled Galapagos tortoises can fetch around $5000.