South Carolina authorities have seized more than 200 turtles from a home in Chester County as part of an investigation of black market wildlife trafficking.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources says the reptiles, mostly box turtles like those native to South Carolina, were being kept by the government until the reptiles can be released back into the wild. The agency is trying to verify where they came from.
Details of the investigation were limited Wednesday morning, but the agency said the probe has again exposed how black market wildlife traders take advantage of weak state reptile trading laws in South Carolina.
While state law generally bans the sale of large numbers of turtles to other states, it does not prohibit people from amassing as many turtles as they want on their land. That makes it easier to create staging areas and illegally sell turtles on the black market, according to the DNR.
People who collect and hold large numbers of turtles for resale could potentially wipe out local turtle populations in South Carolina, said Will Dillman, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Box turtles, like those confiscated earlier this month, take years to reach maturity. When they are taken from their native habitat, there are fewer mature turtles to reproduce, which can eliminate populations of the turtles, he said.
“The difficulty with turtles in South Carolina is we don’t have stringent regulations,’’ Dillman said. “That makes turtles, other reptiles and amphibians prone to being commercially exploited.’’
Last month’s seizure in Chester County follows stories in The State last year detailing how the black market wildlife trade was thriving in South Carolina, in part because of weak laws and limited state manpower. In one case, the state’s lack of oversight allowed a Florida man to bring more than 200 venomous snakes from Africa into South Carolina for possible sale, the newspaper reported.
The illicit wildlife trade is a muti-billion dollar worldwide industry that involves the purchase and sale of an array of wildlife and wildlife parts. In the case of reptiles, many are packaged in boxes disguised as other goods and shipped overseas without food and water. Turtles are highly sought in Asia as pets and for food.
Nationally, federal authorities recently arrested a man who was trying to ship turtles to China through Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Arrested in the cast earlier this summer was Nathan Horton, who was charged with violating the federal Lacy Act, which forbids illegal wildlife trafficking. His arrest follows a three-year investigation that involved efforts to ship turtles through international airports, including Los Angeles International, according to the Associated Press.
The probe involved multiple states The Georgia Department of Natural Resources found a man trapping turtles at a lake near Atlanta, the Associated Press reported. About 1,000 active turtle traps were reportedly found on Lake Jackson, the AP reported.