On March 29, 2021, customs officers confiscated a suitcase with 185 young Galápagos giant tortoises during a routine check at Baltra airport. The animals were being transported to the Ecuadorian mainland by a smuggler.
Only the vigilance of a customs officer prevented this tortoise smuggling. When the suitcase, the contents of which were declared as souvenirs, was x-rayed, the officer became suspicious and opened the luggage.
Inside, he found 185 Galápagos giant tortoise babies wrapped in plastic foil. It is thought that this was to prevent them from moving. Some of the animals were barely three months old. The cruelty of this act appalled all the officials present.
The turtles are free-living juveniles, and do not come from breeding centres as in the case of a theft in 2018. Unfortunately, all of the animals are in poor health, and in the meantime 15 of the confiscated baby tortoises have also died. The animals were taken to a nursery centre run by the Galápagos National Park Authority for further care.
Each of these hatchlings would have generated more than $5,000 on the black market.
Ecuadorian Environment Minister Marcelo Mata calls this atrocity a "crime against the wildlife and natural heritage of Ecuadorians". The smuggler faces between one and three years in prison on Galápagos.