185 Baby Tortoises Seized from Suitcase at Galapagos Airport

They were wrapped in plastic and in poor condition, but most have survived.

Young Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Giant tortoises are only found in the Galapagos. efenzi / Getty Images

Wrapped in plastic and packed in a red suitcase, 185 baby giant tortoises were spotted by airport authorities in the Galapagos Islands when they went through an X-ray machine. The customs declaration said the suitcase was carrying only "souvenirs" but instead there were animals stacked inside.

The hatchlings were headed toward the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, according to a statement from the Galapagos Ecological Airport on Facebook.

Ten of the tortoises were found dead in the suitcase and the surviving tortoises were transferred to the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz Island.

Five more tortoises have since died, possibly from the stress of being separated from their habitat, according to a statement from Ecuador's Ministry of Environment and Water.

The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise in the world and is found only in the Galapagos. The World Wildlife Fund lists the tortoises, which have been found to live as long as 100 years old, as vulnerable.

The Galapagos Conservancy estimates that there are 20,000 to 25,000 wild tortoises living on the islands.

It was believed that the tortoises were individually wrapped in order to limit their movement while they were being transported so they wouldn't be detected. Most of the them were estimated to be between 1-6 months old and some appeared to be newly hatched, reports the Galapagos Conservancy.

“The young tortoises were found in dreadful condition and appear to be extremely underweight. We are in the process of collecting important data, including size and weight, for each tortoise to better assess its health condition,” said Galapagos Conservancy’s Director of Conservation, Wacho Tapia, in a statement.

Tapia said he believes that the tortoises were removed from nests on Santa Cruz Island.

A police officer was arrested in connection with the alleged tortoise smuggling and is expected to be charged with a crime against wild flora and fauna. He faces up to three years in prison, according to authorities.

"The Ministry of Environment and Water is collaborating in the investigations of the Prosecutor's Office, since this fact is an environmental crime that is dealt with by the Jurisdictional power. Absolutely all the procedures required by the tax authority will be carried out," said Ecuador’s environment minister, Marcelo Mata, on Twitter.

View Article Sources
  1. "Presunto Traficante De 185 Tortugas Detenido En Galápagos". Ministerio Del Ambiente Y Agua, 2021.

  2. "Giant Tortoise." WWF.

  3. "Giant Tortoises." Galapagos Conservancy.

  4. "BREAKING: 185 Baby Galapagos Tortoises Seized from Illegal Traffickers." Galapagos Conservancy.