ROYAL OAK, Mich. - The Detroit Zoo is caring for more than 1,000 turtles that it says authorities believe are tied to an international smuggling ring.
The zoo said in a news release Friday that some turtles were found stuffed into rubber snow boots and cereal boxes inside a Canadian man's luggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last week. The man was arrested by federal agents before he could board a flight to Shanghai, China, with the contraband turtles, reports the Detroit Free Press.
The Detroit Zoo said that most of the 1,007 confiscated reptiles are juvenile hatchlings less than a month old. They include more than 750 diamondback terrapins as well as red-necked pond turtles (also known as Kwangtung river turtles), spotted turtles, wood turtles, Blanding's turtles, red-eared sliders and African spur-thighed tortoises.
"The conditions of the turtles vary. It isn't surprising that some are not doing well given the way they were being smuggled," said Scott Carter, DZS chief life sciences officer. "Most are not of conservation concern, but some are endangered species."
The Detroit Free Press reports that the incident is connected to an international smuggling ring led by another Canadian man, Kai Xu, who attempted to cross the Detroit-Windsor border in August with 51 turtles concealed in his pants. Xu was charged with federal smuggling crimes for trying to return to Windsor with the live reptiles tucked in baggies around his legs, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
The confiscated turtles are being housed behind the scenes at the Detroit Zoo. The zoo says that once the investigation is complete, the turtles will be transferred back to the USFWS for permanent placement.