Back in February, a Chinese student tried to smuggle 18 rare Palawan pond turtles and 13 common Philippine box turtles into Hong Kong. He didn’t even make it out of the Hong Kong airport with them. Customs inspectors found and confiscated the collection, all of whom were, amazingly, alive and well.
According to Mundita Lim, head of the Philippine Wildlife Bureau, the pond turtles live only in the forests on Palawan Island, and only about 120 remain in the wild. The 18 kidnapped turtles represented 15% of that wild population, a critical loss in such a small breeding group.
Lim said the turtles, which represent longevity and good luck, are prized as novelty pets or food. The assumption is that the student planned to sell the turtles to collectors on the black market.
Philippine officials took the unprecedented step of traveling to Hong Kong and retrieving the turtles because they are so rare. Palawan’s governor received the turtles at the Manila airport today (4/27/12).
The 18 will be rehabilitated before being released in the wild.