Thousands of stolen turtles returned to wild

Monday 17 February 2014, BANGKOK - More than two thousand rare turtles that were confiscated from traffickers last month in a cross border law enforcement operation were successfully repatriated to their native wild home in Indonesia.

The “Pig-nosed” turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) were confiscated in Hong Kong on January 12th by local authorities after they received a tip-off during a global wildlife enforcement sting operation code-named “Cobra II”.

The turtles were poached and trafficked out of Indonesia and destined for mainland China.  Investigations continue to look into who were the illegal exporters from Indonesia and illegal importers in China.

Despite being protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Indonesian law, the turtles are trafficked in the thousands every year for the international pet trade and as meat for Asian markets.

In coordination with Operation Cobra II participants, Freeland joined the Indonesia Ministry of Forests, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Garuda Airlines to organize the repatriation. 

China’s State Forestry Administration and Hong Kong Customs Authorities cooperated to take care of the turtles until they could be repatriated to the natural habitat.

Repatriating the turtles was no easy feat and the collaboration of the organizations involved stands as a testament to conservation and animal welfare cooperation.

After the confiscation of the turtles in Hong Kong, the turtles were cared for by the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden before being flown back to Indonesia by Garuda Airlines.

After arriving in Jakarta, the turtles were then flown to the remote Papua region of eastern Indonesia. The turtles were then transferred upriver where they were released in the protected Lorentz National Park.

The illicit trade in endangered species, estimated at US$ 19 billion annually, is ravaging the world’s biodiversity and driving many species towards extinction. 

New cross-border wildlife enforcement operations like Cobra II are being organized by the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and partner governments, with support from Freeland and other NGOs. 

Cobra II resulted in the arrests of over 400 criminals in Asia and Africa during January.  In spite of increased confiscations, many criminals are escaping justice and remain at large. 

Freeland and partners are providing information and other support to authorities intent on curbing illegal trade and corruption.

Dr. Jan Schmidt, WSPA Asia Pacific Senior Wildlife and Veterinary Advisor said, “WSPA moves people to protect not exploit animals.

Where animals are traded, trapped or hunted it is essential to help people to prevent it. The illegal wildlife trade removes wild animals from their natural habitats and causes untold suffering and loss of animal lives.

"Confiscated animals should when possible be returned to the wild, as long as the best welfare solution for the animals and wider conservation concerns are considered. This is why we have worked alongside Freeland and all those involved to help release these turtles in to the wild where they belong.”

Steven Galster, the Director of Freeland added, “This case illustrates the huge ongoing consumption of wild turtles occurring in China, and that we are now seeing more cooperation between China and source countries.

"However, this cooperation needs to accelerate in the form of serious demand reduction in China and serious follow up investigations in Indonesia before it's too late for these turtles and many other species.”