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GNPD technical team analyzes the status of smuggled tortoises found in Peru

May 23, 2017

Smuggled Galapagos tortoises

Galapagos National Park ranger Freddy Villalva, head of the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Breeding Center, and Galapagos Conservancy’s Wacho Tapia, director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative and scientific advisor of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), recently traveled to the city of Piura, Peru, to carry out physical examinations and blood sampling of the juvenile giant tortoises seized there last month in the first case of wildlife traffic related to this species, at least in the last several decades.

After complying with all the procedures established by the Peruvian authorities and in the company of members of the Peruvian Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR, its acronym in Spanish), the Ecuadorian officials gained access to the 27 giant tortoises that are currently housed in a private zoo in the city of Piura, under good environmental conditions.

The Ecuadorian technical team identified the tortoises as endemic to the Galapagos Islands. They also took samples of blood and feces for laboratory and genetic tests, which will allow scientists to determine the species to which each tortoise belongs, as well as their state of health.

“In the physical review, we observed that it is possible that these tortoises pertain to several different species and range in age from 3 to 5 years old. The tortoises are in a pen specially built for them – comfortable, safe, with shade, veterinary attention, food and water; at the time of the inspection they were very active,” said Wacho Tapia.

The technical team confirmed that none of the tortoises had identification microchips, which means they had not been repatriated to their home islands from the tortoise centers in Galapagos.

The Ecuadorian government is managing the necessary permits to export blood samples to Yale University, where the tortoises’ species will be determined through genetic analysis. Analysis of their health status will be conducted in the laboratories of the University of the Armed Forces-ESPE, in Quito. Legal processes continue to investigate this alleged case of trafficking of protected species.

The director of the Galapagos National Park, Walter Bustos, emphasized that “the environmental authority will spare no effort to clarify this alleged case of trafficking in protected wildlife, and is providing support so that the investigation discovers those responsible and ensures that they receive the appropriate sanctions.”

Currently, the GNPD technicians are planning for the return of the tortoises to Galapagos, in accordance with any legal processes, as they are part of a criminal investigation. This is the first known case of possible Galapagos giant tortoise trafficking.

Translated from a press release from the GNPD, reprinted with their permission.

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