A giant Galapagos tortoise sells for up to $ 60,000 on the international black market; organized crime stalks the iconic species

On March 28, authorities prevented 185 baby tortoises from leaving the islands wrapped in plastic in a suitcase.

April 21, 2021 – 08:30 am

An adult chelonian can cost up to $ 60,000 on the foreign black market. 
Photo: Archive

The previous Sunday, at the request of the Prosecutor’s Office, the judge who is handling the case of the 185 giant baby tortoises found in a suitcase at the Baltra airport, Galapagos, on March 28, adjourned the trial hearing against the police officer Nixon Alejandro PD , the only one involved. They will reinstall the hearing on May 3 to “wait for important expert evidence.”

This fact confirms that organized crime is on the lookout for these chelonians to be able to traffic them on the international black market. According to the organization Pacífico Librea young turtle can cost between $ 5,000 and $ 7,000, and adult ones can cost $ 60,000 each. The seizure carried out on March 28 would reach, in the illegal market, a total of $ 1,295,000.

The Ecuadorian Coordination for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (Cedenma), in a statement, affirms that the apprehension of a policeman is not enough, since this type of case corresponds to the work of an organized “mafia”. Environmental groups demand greater controls.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water (MAAE) indicates that, through the personnel of the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park (GNPD), it carries out land and river patrols, cargo controls, inspections of boats, control with surveillance cameras in breeding centers, among other actions, to protect the species of the archipelago from traffickers.

The GNPD, since 2015, has a current agreement with the Ecuadorian Navy whose objective is to carry out coordination, strategies and joint activities of control and patrol in order to avoid illegal fishing and species trafficking,” affirms the MAAE.

However, the entity accepts that in the natural nesting areas there are no surveillance cameras or guardianship, “because they are located in remote areas and it is impossible to have security in the entire territory, which is vast . 

Precisely from these areas it is presumed that the turtles seized on March 28 have come: “Depending on the island, the distance from the populated centers to reach these sites is greater, and they are areas to which entry is prohibited. There are no access roads, only trails that we locally call pikes, which are used by park rangers to protect the nests of the species,” indicates Washington Tapia, of the Galapagos Conservancy.

The specialist adds that there are “local” people who, for example, hunt goats and know those areas very well. It states that these areas are reached through GPS systems.

“It really is a very complex situation, because the area is very large. Undoubtedly, in the last events that have been detected, there is the participation of local people who know the areas and know how to walk in the difficult terrain of Galapagos, because not just anyone can come, without knowing, and remove the species, “he says.

According to the MAAE, the retention of the 185 turtles is the first that they register in their file. However, there was also a seizure made in Peru, in 2017, where 26 individuals were recovered . There is also no precedent for a sentence for the trafficking of Galapagos giant tortoises, despite the fact that in 2018 the theft of 123 chelonians from the breeding center in Isabela was reported .

Read the original coverage from El Universo at https://www.eluniverso.com/larevista/ecologia/una-tortuga-gigante-de-galapagos-se-vende-hasta-en-60000-en-el-mercado-negro-internacional-delincuencia-organizada-acecha-a-la-iconica-especie-nota/ and the press release from Pacifico Libre at https://sosgalapagos.org/2021/04/17/trafficking-of-185-galapagos-tortoises-a-possible-million-dollar-industry/

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021


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