U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and agriculture specialists working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) said they seized 55 endangered turtles inside luggage and $16,212 of undeclared currency from Japan Jan. 7.
Customs officers said they halted attempts by two Japanese nationals to allegedly smuggle the live turtles at Tom Bradley International Terminal.
The exotic reptiles, identified as endangered species, were found wrapped in cloth bags and concealed inside five Japanese cookie boxes, according to CBP. Turtles and tortoises are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The CBP officers seized 15 Fly River, 14 Snail Eating, three Chinese Big-Headed, five Indian Flap, 11 Chinese Soft Shell turtles and seven Star tortoises.
CBP officials said the agency works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure CITES is enforced at every port of entry in the United States. The goal of CITES is to ensure that international trade in animals does not threaten their survival.
“CBP-LAX values partnerships and works diligently with other agencies to ensure the enforcement of a myriad of federal laws,” CBP Acting Director of Los Angeles Field Operations Carlos Martel said. “Multiagency efforts such as this one illustrate the vigilance and commitment in maintaining a united front against international trafficking of endangered species,”
The two male passengers, 49 and 39 years old, were turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the reptiles and the seized money, a CBP spokesman said.