CINCINNATI (CN) – The U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted shipments containing endangered hawksbill sea turtle shells and dead king cobras in Cincinnati, the agency announced Friday.
The shipments were turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of two federal agencies tasked with determining listing status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for imperiled species.
Though not listed under the ESA as the hawksbill turtles are, king cobras are listed as a vulnerable species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, meaning they have a very high risk of extinction because their population declined by thirty percent within three generations.
The shipment of king cobras were wrapped in socks and concealed inside baskets. The shipped snakes were much smaller than the 18 feet king cobras can attain. Though it is suspected they were intended for breeding purposes, they were all dead when they arrived in the United States, the CBP said.
The hawksbill sea turtle shells have bony plates called scutes, and the trade in their shells is mainly for decorative uses, such as jewelry, hair ornaments and guitar picks. These turtles are also listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES), which prohibits trade in species threatened with extinction, according to the notice.
The 631 scutes found in the second shipment, had been sanded and whitewashed to disguise what they were. FWS inspectors estimated that the shipment represented “the remains of at least 29 large, mature sea turtles between 60 to 75 years old.” The turtles could take decades to recover from that population loss because these sea turtles do not reach sexual maturity for 20 or more years, according to the service.
“Our CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce federal wildlife laws that protect vulnerable species, such as hawksbill sea turtles,” CBP Cincinnati Port Director Richard Gillespie said. “Historically, CBP and FWS have worked together to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, and this inter-agency cooperation is critical to our success.”
The CBP is tasked with managing U.S. borders at ports of entry and between. In addition to keeping the nation’s borders secure, the agency enforces hundreds of U.S. laws, including those concerning illegal trade in endangered species.
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