Smugglers Nabbed Targeting Turkish Plants, Insects

tulips flowers istanbul turkey photo

Tulips have been one of the targets of smugglers. Photo: Jennifer Hattam.

Illegal attempts to spirit endemic species out of the country appear to be on the rise in Turkey, where officials have recently busted a number of would-be smugglers with large cargos of butterflies and other insects, as well as rare tulips and other plants.A group of people trying to leave the country by car through Bulgaria were apprehended this week with thousands of bugs hidden away in boxes and tubes, the Anatolia news agency reported. Biology professors who examined the cache "identified 6,014 bugs from 48 different species, including ladybugs, cockroaches, and various types of stag beetles, grasshoppers, flies, and bees" from the Black Sea region and the northern part of Central Anatolia. The haul was reportedly worth 500,000 Turkish Liras, or about $300,000.

'Bugs Are Part Of Our Natural Diversity'
Professor Murat Yurtcan of Trakya University told the news agency that bug samples fetch a high price abroad for displays at natural history museums and use in genetic research. "In Turkey, we have many species from Europe, Asia, and Africa, which makes them perfect for genetic research," he said. "However, these bugs are also part of our country's natural diversity and we must put a stop to their being smuggled."

Also this past week, a Russian couple was caught with 624 endemic butterflies in northeastern Turkey's Kaçkar Mountain highlands, the newspaper Today's Zaman reported. They claimed they wanted the insects for their personal collection. Turkey is home to more than 400 different butterfly species.

Would-Be Tulip Smugglers Apprehended
Rare plants have also been a target for smugglers, with one high-profile bust in June catching two Dutch citizens trying to take 57 rare inverted tulip bulbs out of Turkey, along with more than 5,000 flower seeds and roots from 160 endemic species. Though the Dutch are often associated with tulips, the flowers actually have their origin in Turkey and other western Mediterranean countries -- the inverted tulip grows only in a specific region of Erzurum, Turkey.

Taking endemic species outside of the country without official permission is illegal in Turkey.

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