When the Mexican officers first saw the pickup truck, they instantly knew something was wrong. The erratic driving was their first clue, so the cops decided to inspect the vehicle further. And what they saw inside made their jaws drop. It was no wonder the driver was in such a hurry.
When you think of Mexico, there are many things that might spring to mind. The wonderful country is famous for its tequila, and it’s the birthplace of the extravagant Mexican wrestling, lucha libre. Mexico’s customs have even found their way into animated movies in recent years.
For example, in 2014 Texas-based studio Reel FX released The Book of Life. The creators based it on the Mexican festival Day of the Dead, and the 2017 Pixar film Coco also used the same theme. However, like any country, Mexico also has its share of problems with crime.
Indeed, Donald Trump was vocal about one particular crime when fighting his U.S. presidential campaign back in 2016. Trump referenced illegal immigration and drug smuggling at the U.S./Mexican border in many of his election speeches, and his proposed solution – a wall between the two countries – divided opinion. But there is another form of smuggling the president didn’t comment on.
You see, it’s not just drugs that smugglers transport across Mexico and over the border into the U.S. In fact, animal trafficking is also big business among the country’s criminal element. Mexican law enforcers are well aware of this and are on the front line in the war against the illegal wildlife trade. And never was this more evident than in April 2018.
That month, cops sprang into action when they stopped a suspicious vehicle on an Oaxaca highway. Officers from the Federal Police of Mexico (FPM) noticed the pickup truck being driven erratically on the road. The truck’s driver was veering across the road and paying no attention to lane dividers.
The officers found this driving style unusual, to say the least. And as a result, they decided to pull the driver over and carry out a search of his truck. So, after flagging down the vehicle, the policemen yanked the pickup’s trailer door down. It was then that they made a shocking discovery.
Black plastic garbage bags littered the vehicle’s interior, but it wasn’t household trash that they held. On closer inspection, officers found the sacks contained a very disturbing cargo. The truck was transporting an extremely delicate animal product; one that, if damaged, could result in a catastrophic loss of life.
The driver had in his possession an extraordinary haul of eggs, numbering in the thousands. What’s more, the eggs belonged to just one breed of creature: a vulnerable species of sea turtle. Clearly, this wasn’t just any old wildlife smuggling bust, but one of great significance.
To be more specific, the trash bags contained the largest number of turtle eggs ever confiscated in Mexico – at least 22,000 in total. And on April 20, 2018, the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) communications coordinator, Lexie Beach, spoke to The Dodo about the find.
Beach said that the eggs probably came from a breed of reptile called the olive ridley sea turtle. These turtles are found in the warm waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. And although they’re the most common of sea turtles, they are nevertheless an at-risk species.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has classified olive ridley sea turtles as vulnerable. It doesn’t help that the turtles’ eggs are held in high esteem by a number of known predators, including vultures and snakes. However, humans are still the species’ biggest threat and are mostly responsible for the reptile’s decline.
And nothing proves this more than the eggs trafficked in the Mexican pickup truck. “It is a very large number of eggs,” Beach told The Dodo. “Olive ridley can lay over 110 eggs per nest, so this could represent the loss of over 200 nests.”
Beach also added that such large-scale trafficking could have a terrible effect on the local ecosystem. As to what usually happens to the eggs, well, “[In Mexico], they are usually sold to bars or restaurants and eaten raw,” she said. “Or the raw egg is actually put into a beer.”
Furthermore, traffickers could also sell their product outside Mexico. Some parts of the world use the eggs for medicinal purposes, the effectiveness of which is highly debatable. Other parts hanker after the shells for use in jewelry making. According to Beach, the eggs are even used to stimulate libido. “In some countries, sea turtle eggs are prized as an aphrodisiac,” she said.
Although rescuers would like to return the eggs to their nests, it’s unlikely that any young will subsequently appear. “The chances of them successfully hatching are nearly zero,” Beach confirmed. And yet, she told The Dodo that conservationists are still considering such a plan.
If conservationists can determine which beach the haul came from, there’s a possibility the eggs might be reburied. That’s because, given the right conditions, there’s a small chance that the eggs might yield the odd baby. In the meantime, though, the police are doing what they can to prevent a similar disaster.
Poaching sea turtle eggs is actually illegal in some parts of the world, including Mexico. Moreover, the man in the pickup didn’t have any paperwork to explain what he was doing. As a result, officers took him into custody.
If the man acted illegally, it’s likely he will have to pay for his actions. The FPM explained that he might even face some time in jail. “The possession and transportation [of wildlife] for commercial purposes is a serious crime,” it said in a Facebook post.
Moreover, it’s not just the truck driver who’s in trouble, either. Anyone else caught in cahoots with him could also face similar action. “The detainee and others responsible could reach up to nine years in prison,” FPM concluded. Who knows how many sea turtle lives that will save as a result?