Last November, Chinese customs officers intercepted over 100 tortoise shells in the Guangxi region. This bust, one of the largest this decade, underlines once more the threat which has put this species in grave danger of extinction. The smugglers were arrested.
Customs authorities discovered the 109 shells stuffed with cotton where the head should be.Classified as a critically endangered species by theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature, the hawksbill sea turtle has seen its population drop by close to 90% over the course of the past century. Hunted for the notable pattern on their shells, the tortoises are decapitated and then transported in containers.
China is one of the largest markets for the illegal shells. Most "tortoiseshell" is actually plastic, but there is a market for the real thing. David Godfrey, executive director of the organizationSea Turtle Conservancy, told The Dodo:
The raw shells of these turtles, that have been beheaded, are making their way into shipments into China. I have heard that the most beautifully worked artisan products from hawksbill shell can be as valuable as gold … It's similar to ivory.
Tourists are the top buyers for these types of objects. Most of them don't know how these products come about, and don't realize that the trafficking is illegal. They become, without knowing, the driving force behind the smuggling.David Godfrey hopes that educating international tourists on the disastrous consequences to the trafficking will help put an end to the massacre. If the demand is diminished, the hunting will as well.The hawksbill tortoise is one of the numerous victims of threatened species smuggling. This extremely lucrative market represents over 170 billion dollars per year, almost as much as weapons or drugs. Adam Roberts director of Born Free USA, an animal defense organization, explainedtoThe Dodo:
No one should partake in this massive carnage that threatens the long-term viability of the species. International wildlife trade is about more than elephant ivory and rhino horn.
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