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FWC busts wildlife trafficking ring smuggling thousands of turtles

'Largest seizure of turtles' in recent history

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Two Florida men have been charged for poaching thousands of turtles from the wild and selling them illegally, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said. 

The bust was the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent history, a release said. 

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“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle species and our ecosystems. We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal wildlife trafficking,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton.

“Putting a stop to this criminal enterprise is a significant win for conservation,” said Col. Curtis Brown, head of FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “Arresting people engaged in illegal wildlife trafficking supports our environment and legal businesses. It is especially positive and rewarding to be able to release many of the turtles back into the wild.”

The illegal commercialization of wildlife ranks fourth behind guns, drugs and human smuggling and, in many instances, is connected due to the monetary gain. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates illegal wildlife trade in the US at $19 billion annual income.
The FWC launched an undercover investigation after receiving a tip in February 2018. Through surveillance and other investigative tactics, FWC investigators determined that a ring of well-organized wildlife traffickers was illegally catching and selling wild turtles to large-scale reptile dealers and illegal distributors, who shipped most of them overseas on the black market. 

Depending upon the species, the poached turtles sold wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in Asia. Evidence indicated turtles sold within one month totaled an estimated $60,000. The sellers received mostly cash, occasionally trading turtles for marijuana products.

Most of the turtles were released into the wild. 

To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.