Press Cuttings


Asian Turtle Crisis — The largest seizure of turtle smuggling in Hong Kong

Press Release
Source: Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, Hong Kong
Date: 12 December 2001

During a joint operation of the Customs Ship Search and Cargo Command and the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) on 11 December 2001, about 10,000 live turtles kept in four 20-foot containers on board an incoming river trade vessel from Macau were seized at the Hong Kong Yau Ma Tei Public Cargo Loading Area. It is estimated that the seizure is worth over HK$3.2 million and it is the largest seizure of live turtles in Hong Kong. On the same day, the confiscated turtles were transferred by the AFCD to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) for identification and temporary holding.

'We have poured a lot of effort and resources into handling these vulnerable animals we will try our best to rescue as many of them as possible,' said Dr. Gary Ades, KFBG Senior Manager (Fauna Conservation). Many of the turtles are injured and sick as they were smuggled in extremely poor conditions - they are dehydrated and were very cruelly packed on top of one another inside weak cardboard and polystyrene containers. So far we have identified eleven Asian species, which include even the critically endangered River Terrapin Batagur baska, which is listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I,' Dr. Ades added. The KFBG Wild Animal Rescue Centre (WARC) plays an important role in wild animal rescue and rehabilitation. The WARC was set up in 1994, primarily to rehabilitate birds of prey. It has since developed to handle over 100 species of native and CITES listed exotic animals, which include reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

The confiscated turtles were smuggled to Macau by air from Singapore, and then shipped to China destined for the illegal food trade. Wildlife market surveys have indicated that the increasing food market demand for turtles in South China has already posed a severe threat to wild turtles in Asia. KFBG has been working with overseas turtle conservation organizations to seek long term solutions for the Asian Turtle Crisis, which will ultimately result in the extinction of many species.

Dr. Ades explained, 'obviously the turtles were wild caught as many of them have fish hooks still attached to their mouths and we know that many of the species are not being farmed. With this huge number of different turtle species taken away from wild, the damage to the species' wild populations and disturbance to the ecological balance have already been done. After identification of the seized turtles, we will categorize them according to the conservation priority. Working closely with AFCD and other international organizations, we hope to seek long-term holding facilities to group the endangered turtle species together in future conservation programmes.’

The KFBG Executive Director, Manab Chakraborty emphasized, 'The airlines and shipping companies involved in transportation of the seizure have violated not only animal welfare but also International Airport Traffic Authority (IATA) Guidelines. In this confiscation, the Hong Kong Government has fully demonstrated its commitment to CITES for conservation. However, unless other countries devote the same commitment, the illegal trade of wildlife will not be halted.’

The Customs and Excise Department arrested four men involved in the smuggling. In Hong Kong, the Animals and Plants (Protection of Endangered Species) Ordinance, Chapter 187, gives effect to CITES. It is an offence to import endangered species into Hong Kong without a special permit issued by AFCD. The maximum penalties for offences against Cap. 187 for commercial purposes are one-year imprisonment and a fine of HK$500,000.

Table 1 – A list of the eleven turtle species identified

Scientific Name
Common Name
IUCN Red List Ranking
CITES Listing
S. crassicollis Black marsh turtle Vulnerable
Orlitia borniensis Malaysian giant turtle Endangered
H. annandalei Yellow-headed temple turtle Endangered
Batagur baskar River Terrapin Critically endangered
Appendix I
H. grandis Giant Asian pond turtle Vulnerable
Notochelys platynota Malayan flat-shelled turtle Vulnerable
H. spinosa Spiny turtle Endangered
Manoria emys Asian brown tortoise Endangered
Appendix II

C. amboinensi

Malayan box turtle Vulnerable
Appendix II
Malayemys subtrijuga Malayan snail-eating turtle Vulnerable
Cyclemys spp.

For Enquiry

Please feel free to contact Ms. Idy Wong, KFBG Public Education Manager by phone at 852+2488 0166 / 9883 4760 or by email to wly@kfbg.org for further information about the incident. Photos in digital format are available upon request.