The officers stopped the bus and began searching for what they suspected was on board. As they did so, however, they knew that they could be about to uncover a real tragedy. Then they found the dubious package, and they opened it up and peered inside…
The raid in question happened on April 19, 2017, when Peruvian authorities became suspicious of a bus and its cargo. Specifically, the bus was headed for Peru’s capital city of Lima when it was ordered to a stop by members of a number of organizations.
That alliance was composed of individuals from the Piura Environment Division of the National Police of Peru as well as customs officers. They were also joined by people from the National Forestry and Wildlife Service, and together the team intercepted the bus en route to its destination.
What’s more, the authorities had reason to believe that the vehicle – which belonged to the Caplina de Transportes Turisticas Internacionales company – carried something highly illegal. That was why they pulled it over in order to search it before it reached its destination.
And after stopping the bus, the authorities investigated its luggage area. Here, they found a cardboard box, measuring up at 12 inches high, 27 inches long and 20 inches wide. So, the officers opened it, perhaps hoping that they weren’t too late to save what they suspected were trapped inside.
And, as it turned out, the box unfortunately contained a live shipment of Galapagos tortoises being transported to Europe. The reptiles’ journey would have been fraught with suffering; after they had reached their destination, moreover, it’s likely that the endangered animals would have been sold into the illicit pet trade.
In all, authorities found 29 baby Galapagos tortoises. Sadly, two were already dead – but considering the terrible conditions in which they were being transported, it’s perhaps surprising that there weren’t more casualties. For a start, the smugglers had simply stacked the tortoises on top of one another.
Furthermore, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) biologist D.J. Schubert said that the tortoises were also bound with tape. “I suspect that was to prevent them from moving about too much,” he told The Dodo in April 2017. “So they wouldn’t make noise that might draw attention to the box.”
And Schubert explained that the cruelty wouldn’t have ended there, either. “They wouldn’t have been fed or watered,” he explained. “[Tortoises] can sustain some period of time without food or water, but they’re not indestructible. They would have gone through a lot of suffering and cruelty, for sure.”
Indeed, the conditions in which the tortoises had been kept had arguably contributed to two of their number dying. And these losses may have been an extra blow given the vulnerable status of the Galapagos tortoise. The species has suffered large casualties at the hands of man since as far back as the 16th century.
The moniker “Galapagos tortoise,” meanwhile, is actually an umbrella term for several different species of related tortoise. And as their collective name suggests, they live on the Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, close to Ecuador. But while the islands were once home to many varieties of tortoise, the numbers of the reptiles are waning there.
In fact, there used to be as many as 15 species on the islands: as a result of human intervention, however, four became extinct. Past hunting and the introduction of animals non-native to the Galapagos Islands are thought to have been responsible for the loss of these species.
And, today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the Galapagos tortoise species as “vulnerable.” What’s more, it’s fair to say that humans are still somewhat to blame for the animals’ continued endangerment – the tortoises smuggled from Peru are a prime example of that.
After the rescue of those particular reptiles, however, the tortoises were taken to a zoo in Peru where they were given expert medical treatment. And when they are healthy enough, they will be transported again. This time, though, their conditions will be much more agreeable – and they won’t be heading for the black market, of course.
Instead, the tortoises will be taken to their home in the Galapagos Islands, where a breeding program is being run. Hopefully, the smugglers won’t get away, either, especially as both the vehicle’s driver and the bus company are under investigation.
Schubert, meanwhile, was disgusted by the treatment of the tortoises. “Every tortoise who calls Galapagos home is in trouble,” he told The Dodo. “And the fact that someone tried to abscond with 29 juvenile tortoises for the international pet trade is… outrageous.”
“This should be yet another wake-up call,” he continued. “Not only to people in wildlife law enforcement authorities or government officials, but to all of us. We all have to do more individually and collectively to stamp out this obnoxious, illegal trade in wildlife.”
And it would seem that Peruvian authorities are trying to do just that by cracking down on smugglers using their country to traffic animals illegally into Europe. The Technical Forestry and Wildlife Administration (ATFFS), for example, is working closely with the National Police of Peru to tackle the issue.
Furthermore, ATFFS head Juan Otivo Meza has issued a statement condemning those who purchase animals illegally. “The person who buys a wild animal threatens the welfare of the specimen, forests and all of its ecosystem,” Peruvian news website Andina quoted him as saying in May 2017.
“In addition, they are transferred in unhealthy conditions. [This is] why many of them die [on] the way, as in the case of the two turtles in this last intervention.” But thanks to the work of the Peruvian authorities, at least, 27 endangered tortoises are going back home. Meanwhile, you can join the fight against the illegal animal trade by donating to AWI.