(Yicai Global) Aug. 13 -- Two Chinese flight attendants have pled guilty to trying to smuggle nearly two-dozen spotted and box turtles in a carry-on bag from Los Angeles to China. Qu Huaqian was fined USD$5,500 on July 23, as was his co-defendant Gao Fenfeng. The pair tried to unlawfully export a total of 45 turtles protected under international law. The turtles could have sold for more than USD40,000 in Asia, various media reported.
Federal wildlife inspectors checking packages headed for China at a Los Angeles post office found the turtles hidden in a cardboard box with no return address. The case is a disquieting example China's yen for such reptiles expanding to include common US species. Having driven their own turtles and tortoises to extinction, wealthy Chinese are now paying sky-high prices for illegally imported testudos from the US and other countries as pets, collectables, or more sinisterly for their presumed medicinal or actual culinary properties.
Turtles and tortoises are not the only victims. Chinese smugglers also illegally collect US succulent plants and Southeast Asian corals. As the buying power of Chinese grows by the day, this problem seems set to only worsen. It is time for the Chinese government and domestic NGO's to step up to the plate and address this problem before the loss of biodiversity it engenders becomes irreversible.