In January 2018, the Customs & Excise Department authorities of Hong Kong intercepted and confiscated a shipment of 658 pig-nosed turtles, which smugglers were attempting to traffic by plane.
This month, the confiscated turtles were finally released back into their natural habitat.
Pig-nosed turtles are large freshwater turtles that live in the southern lowlands of New Guinea (Indonesian Papua and Papua New Guinea) and Northeast Australia.
As adults, they are about 27 inches long and weigh about 66 pounds. Unlike other freshwater turtles, pig-nosed turtles have flippers like sea turtles. Their name comes from their large, protruding snouts.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies this species as vulnerable, and it has legal protection in all three countries where it lives, but smuggling is still rampant.
The turtles are in high demand as pets, for food and for "traditional medicine."
It is common for locals in Papua to collect pig-nosed turtle eggs, incubate them and then sell the hatchlings to traders who will attempt to smuggle them to large cities. Authorities suspect that Hong Kong, China and Singapore are among the main destinations.
On January 12, 2018, Customs & Excise Department authorities at Hong Kong International Airport confiscated 658 turtles. Later that same month, on January 28, there were two more seizures totaling over 1,500 turtles. All three shipments were on flights that came from Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, which is located in Indonesia.
International Animal Rescue reports that the 658 turtles from the first shipment were taken to Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden in Hong Kong.
Of those, 599 survived long enough to be returned to their native home of Papua.
The repatriation and release of the turtles required a combined effort from KFBG, the Indonesian Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation, International Animal Rescue Indonesia, and World Wildlife Fund Indonesia.
The release took place two weeks ago.
Since 2010, authorities in Indonesia and Hong Kong have confiscated over 35,000 pig-nosed turtles. That probably accounts for only a small percentage of the turtles that are currently being smuggled. This means that poaching probably poses a huge threat to the species.
Karmele Llano Sanchez, program director of International Animal Rescue Indonesia, says in a statement from International Animal Rescue that much of the responsibility for stopping illegal trade rests with consumers:
"Until the civil society realizes the extent of the part they play in this lucrative and cruel illegal business when they buy, keep or consume wild animals, we will not be able to stop the illegal wildlife trade that threatens much of the world's unique biodiversity."