Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ontario Man Arrested at U.S-Canada Border with Fifty Turtles Hidden in his Underwear

Spotted turtle

It has recently been reported that a man from Windsor in the southwestern part of Canada's Ontario province was arrested at the U.S-Canada border while attempting to smuggle more than fifty freshwater turtles into the U.S. Border patrol agents found that the turtles were hidden in the man's underwear and strapped elsewhere on his body. The man, Kai Xu, was apprehended at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel after authorities "noticed irregularly shaped bulges under (his) sweatpants on both his legs." Mr. Xu was also arrested, along with his suspected partner Lihua Lin from Toronto, earlier after Mr. Lin supposedly tried to smuggle 200 turtles in his luggage on a flight bound to Shanghai. The turtles found in Mr. Xu's pants included several North American species such as diamondback terrapins, eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders, and spotted turtles. One of them is known to fetch up to $800 in the illegal pet trade. It is said that Mr. Xu's alleged involvement in the illegal smuggling of tortoises and turtles is unclear, but he was incriminated on Thursday in a U.S district court on charges of illegal trading, exporting, and smuggling. Originally from China, he is a Canadian citizen and an engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Last month, officials of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service began following Mr. Xu after an informant at a Detroit post office warned them about a seven-pound package marked "Live Fish Keep Cool" that had arrived for him. The officials reportedly observed Mr. Xu after carrying the contents of the package into plastic bags in the back of his Ford Escape, and then walking across a parking lot on Hoover Street located south of Eight Mile Road in northeast Detroit with the bags and scissors. He then walked between two U.S Postal Service tractor-trailers and came back ten minutes later without the bags. That was when one of the officials noticed unevenly shaped bulges under Mr. Xu's sweatpants on both of his legs. The officials pursued Mr. Xu to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, where border patrol agents discovered that he was hiding the turtles on his person while carrying out a secondary inspection after Mr. Xu entered Canada. He is scheduled to appear at a bond hearing on Friday. It is unclear what charges his partner Mr. Lin faces.

It is extremely disturbing to see how endangered species are smuggled across borders and overseas both nationally and internationally in large quantities, which decreases their populations at an alarming rate and deeply affects the ecological balance of their native habitats. Like the trafficking of drugs and other illicit contraband, endangered species are smuggled over vast distances at a large scale to feed the voracious appetite of public consumers. This recent incident taken place at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is one of several cases of smuggling attempts to continuously satisfy the growing demands of public consumers who view endangered species as either food, medicine, or property. According to Melissa Maraj of the U.S Customs and Border Protection, the perpetrators are known to use a great deal of creativity and cleverness when carrying out such smuggling attempts. For example, earlier this year, a passenger traveling to Beijing attempted to smuggle a turtle in a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) sandwich at China's Guangzhou International Airport. Chris Shepherd of the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic stated that little is done to track down important traders or kingpins of tortoises and turtles, which indicated how the illegal smuggling of these reptiles has skyrocketed and resulted in several seizures. One such incident occurred in Thailand last November in which 500 turtles were confiscated at an airport. The reason why the illegal wildlife trade has been able to operate with impunity is because it is low-risk compared to trafficking of drugs, arms, and humans and the chances of being caught and sent to jail are less. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to impose harsher laws and penalties against the illicit trade of endangered species around the world. Just because this lucrative trade does not fit the magnitude of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, or human trafficking does not mean that it should be treated as a separate crime. The illegal wildlife trade is a high-profit crime that involves taking lives of endangered species and depriving them of their freedom, and is linked to global criminal syndicates that are known to monopolize in trafficking of drugs, arms, and humans, extortion, prostitution, racketeering, and other forms of vice that concern human lives.

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