Attempt to smuggle 120 tortoises foiled

June 3, 2009 7:20:05 AM PDT
Polish customs at the Ukrainian border Tuesday found 121 Central Asian tortoises, a threatened species, bound so tightly in black tape that their heads could barely squeeze out from their shells.

Customs spokeswoman Malgorzata Eisenberger said officers arrested a 34-year-old Ukrainian man allegedly attempting to cross the border with the animals.

The 121 tortoises were destined for markets in Poland where they sell for 200 Polish zlotys ($62) to people who generally want them as pets - a much higher price that they would get in impoverished Ukraine, she said.

Eisenberger said a customs sniffer dog discovered the tortoises bound with black tape and stacked in a converted gasoline tank of the suspect's car.

They will be given to a zoo in nearby Zamosc, she said.

The suspect could face up to five years in prison if convicted of trafficking in exotic species.

The Central Asian tortoise is listed as vulnerable on the list of threatened species produced by the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Eisenberger said that Poland, a European Union member since 2004, is committed to fighting the smuggling of endangered animals, an obligation it made in the 1970s when it signed an international convention against the trade in endangered animals.

"We've fought this smuggling for many years," she said.

She said a similar attempt to smuggle 300 tortoises into Poland from Ukraine was discovered late last year.

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