Japanese man caught smuggling 60 turtles through HK airport jailed for one year

09-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

A Japanese man has been sentenced to one year in prison by a Hong Kong court after being caught in October attempting to smuggle 60 turtles though the international airport.

Naoki Hiraguchi, 43, was detained when customs officials opened two boxes in a checked-in suitcase and found 60 Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles, national broadcaster NHK reported.

The arrest has prompted environmental organisations to warn of an increase in the number of indigenous and endangered Japanese fauna being smuggled overseas.

Hiraguchi had claimed he was assisting a Japanese friend to transport the turtles to Hong Kong for breeding purposes and was reportedly planning to contest the charges against him, but changed his mind during Friday’s hearing and pleaded guilty.

“It is purely out of luck rather than good judgment that all 60 turtles survived… the journey,” deputy District Court judge Emily Cheung said at the hearing, according to Kyodo News. “I do not accept that the defendant was only doing a favour for his friend and I am satisfied that the 60 turtles were for commercial purposes.”

The court heard the turtles were worth as much as $306,000. One of the animals died of natural causes but the surviving turtles were returned to Japan in March.

Listed as endangered, the Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle is found on just three islands in Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, and has been listed as a “natural monument” since 1975. The turtles are popular among collectors due to their rarity and unusual colour scheme.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of cases of endangered native fauna from Japan, with more large-scale seizures of species especially reptiles at airports in Japan as well as points of entry in other states,” said Tomomi Kitade, director of environmental campaigners Traffic Japan.

“We are not quite sure where these animals are being obtained in Japan but it does appear that most are being illegally harvested from the wild.

“There has long been a big market, both in Japan and overseas, traditionally Europe and the US, for reptiles. Now we are seeing a shift in the exotic pet industry to new markets that are starting to emerge, in China and Southeast Asian countries.”

The rise in seizures may also be connected to more foreign tourists coming to Japan, said Kitade, who met with senior officials of the Japanese government on Wednesday to deliver a letter of request calling on the authorities to do more to protect endangered domestic species of flora and fauna.



Category: Hong Kong

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