Authorities in Hainan, China have recently made a series of unprecedented arrests of wildlife smugglers, resulting in a massive haul of illegal wildlife products. Last week, it was announced that 15 suspects in Hainan were arrested for an operation that included the smuggling of a range of wildlife products and live animals worth $4.9 million.
The gang operated a network on the island that distributed illegal wildlife products via both retail stores and online sales across the country. Products seized from the arrests included live and dead sea turtles, hawksbill products, ivory, giant clams, stony corals, live pythons, pangolin specimens, and more. All wildlife products found are illegal to buy or sell in China.
“Many of the suspects said they were fishermen, but they were primarily targeting hawksbill and green sea turtles at sea, and bringing them back to shore for processing,” noted Pan Xi, a police officer involved in the arrests. “Processing a live sea turtle into a taxidermy takes about 15 days to complete and is an extremely cruel process, so we acted the day after we got the tip in order to save as many sea turtles as possible,” he continued.
Earlier this year, Hainan authorities also arrested 83 smugglers selling sea turtles who were involved in a network spanning 21 provinces. In August, Fisheries authorities in Hainan worked with the SEE Foundation (Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology) to release 99 sea turtles rescued from smuggling operations.
Sea turtles have historically nested on Hainan and are still found in its waters as well as across southern China, but their nesting numbers have declined dramatically across the region in recent decades from habitat loss, overfishing, and a steady market for their products. Hainan has been a center for consumption of sea turtle products as well as a supplier of products to other parts of China.
In 2018, WildAid helped co-launch the China Sea Turtle Conservation Alliance in Hainan hosting an event where authorities destroyed 40 tons of illegal marine wildlife products, including many taxidermy sea turtles. In 2019, WildAid released Between the Sea and Shore a film about sea turtle conservation starring actor Eddie Peng, which was partially filmed in Hainan. This year a new campaign with Eddie is helping to further highlight the need for sea turtle conservation across China.
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WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $218 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
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