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Turtle smugglers wrapped critters in candy and noodles, feds say

John Monk, The State (Columbia, S.C.) on

Published in News & Features

The packages were addressed to Hsu at his home address. Agents descended on Hsu's apartment and charged him with illegal smuggling.

According to the just-issued S.C. indictment, Hsu -- who cooperated with federal investigators -- was a key contact in the illegal shipping of endangered turtles in and out of South Carolina.

Others involved in the conspiracy used Facebook to message Hsu about turtle smuggling, the indictment said.

They also texted each other, exchanging messages referring to turtles such as, "I need badly 20.20 ornates; 10.30 strip necks; 2.5 juvie rings; 2.5 blotched; And of course mangroves LOL and what are the albino temple turtles worth to you?"

Although turtle smuggling has not attracted as much attention as, say, trafficking in elephant ivory, it is a booming business, wildlife experts say.

"In Asia, where turtles are highly valued as a food source and often seen as a medicinal food, they have eaten and collected most of the wild turtles," said Will Dillman, reptile and amphibian conservation program coordinator at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

"Asians have started looking to other markets to supply that food demand, and there's also trade for pets as well," Dillman said.

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The Southeast and South Carolina "happen to be relatively rich in the numbers and diversity of turtles," so it is a prime hunting ground for smugglers to harvest turtles to meet the Asian demand, Dillman said.

Being shipped by mail doesn't hurt the turtles as long as the package doesn't take too long to arrive.

"Most reptiles can survive -- very, very easily -- several days without water and much longer without food," Dillman said.

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