Thousands of Stolen Turtles Returned to Wild


More than two thousand rare turtles that were confiscated from traffickers last month in a cross border law enforcement operation were successfully repatriated to their native wild home in Indonesia on February 13, 2014. The “Pig-nosed” turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) were confiscated in Hong Kong on January 12th by local authorities after they received a tip-off during a global wildlife enforcement sting operation code-named “Cobra II”. The turtles were poached and trafficked out of Indonesia and destined for mainland China.  Investigations continue as investigators look into who were the illegal exporters from Indonesia and illegal importers in China. In coordination with Operation Cobra II participants, Freeland, the implementing partner of the USAID-funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking Program (ARREST) joined the Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Garuda Airlines to organize the repatriation.  China’s State Forestry Administration and Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department cooperated to take care of the turtles until they could be repatriated to their natural habitat. Repatriating the turtles was no easy feat and the collaboration of the organizations involved stands as a testament to conservation and animal welfare cooperation. After the confiscation of the turtles in Hong Kong, the turtles were cared for by the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden before being flown back to Indonesia by Garuda Airlines. After arriving in Jakarta, the turtles were then flown to the remote Papua region of eastern Indonesia. The turtles were then transferred upriver where they were released in the protected Lorentz National Park. The illicit trade in endangered species, estimated at US$ 19 billion annually, is ravaging the world’s biodiversity and driving many species towards extinction.  New cross-border wildlife enforcement operations like Cobra II are being organized by ARREST partner ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and partner governments, with support from Freeland and other NGOs.  Cobra II resulted in the arrests of over 400 criminals in Asia and Africa during January.  In spite of increased confiscations, many criminals are escaping justice and remain at large.  Freeland and partners are providing information and other support to authorities’ intent on curbing illegal trade and corruption.


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