|Last month turtle smuggler Kai Xu was sentenced to 57 months in prison. Caught with 51 of them strapped to his legs, it was a tough punishment for Xu, who has been locked up for 19 months since his arrest and had hoped to be released. The 27-year-old expressed remorse to a judge and thanked agents “for stopping the darkness of my greed and ignorance.”|
It’s not illegal to buy turtles from breeders in the U.S., but Xu’s crime was shipping them overseas without a federal permit. His smuggling scheme was one of the largest in recent years. Sentencing guidelines were enhanced by the value of the reptiles as estimated by the government. Prosecutors said shipments intercepted at airports were worth more than $1 million.
|An Ontario man’s guilty plea in late 2015 for smuggling 51 turtles in his sweatpants might seem surprising, even more so when 27-year-old Kai Xu kept it up after being busted for illegally transporting wildlife across the Canada-U.S. border.|
But the reptiles represent big business in China, where they are worth double or triple what Xu paid for them online.
Border agents say Kai Xu ordered turtles online and would travel to the U.S. to pick them up or ship them to China.
|In a court filing, authorities said that he regularly “deals in turtle shipments worth $30,000, $80,000 or $125,000.” It’s illegal to export wildlife from the U.S. without a license from the government. |
The global illegal trade of wildlife is a lucrative business.
|Tortoises and freshwater turtles are one of the most commonly smuggled species in Asia. The reptiles are increasingly coming out of North America, particularly as Asian species become depleted.|
In parts of Asia, turtles are considered a delicacy and a symbol of health and longevity, and that helps fuel demand. But they’re also a status symbol, in part because of their endangered status. As they become increasingly rare, demand rises.