US Attorney: St. Paul man attempted to smuggle 38 turtles to Hong Kong

“Wildlife crime is the third biggest business in the globe.”

Edgar Linares
August 07, 2018 - 6:49 pm

Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

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On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a federal indictment against Rene Patrick Vargas, 32, of St. Paul for illegal exporting box turtles to Hong Kong.

In the state of Minnesota, you cannot legally collect a box turtles. It’s a protected animal, but not considered endangered, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, in North American the turtle’s population has been declining in both the U.S. and Mexico due to loss of habitat and illegal trade.

In Hong Kong and China, the quarter-sized turtles are primarily exported as pets, also for food and medicine. They can grow to the size of a human hand.

According to U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald’s Office, between June 1, 2017 to June 14, 2017, Vargas allegedly shipped three packages containing 38 box turtles. Investigators say the packages were “falsely labeled as ‘toys’” or “components." They were intended to be transported in interstate and foreign commerce, a violation of the Lacey Act.

Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

“There’s money to be made in the pet trade industry as well as food and that’s a global issue,” said Tina Shaw, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region.

Shaw says before someone thinks about buying a reptile for their home they should ask sellers key questions, such as where did it come from?

“Wildlife crime is the third biggest business in the globe,” said Shaw. “There’s drug trade, human trafficking and wildlife trafficking.”

Most of the time they’re dealing with individuals buying elephant ivory or rhino horns illegally, but they have wildlife inspectors all across the country covering a variety of protected animals.