12/18/2014 09:22 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hundreds of Smuggled Turtles Intercepted at Anchorage Airport


Inspectors with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service made an unusual discovery at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in September: more than 200 live baby turtles.

Because of the young age of the turtles, and the way they were being shipped, about half of the animals have died, according to Nicole Abeln, the Anchorage Museum's animal care technician, tasked with caring for the turtles.

Most of the turtles belonged to species that are protected from illegal poaching and export, according to Fish and Wildlife officials. The reptiles were stuffed into boots, hidden away inside luggage bound for China, according to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, one of the facilities to receive some of the animals. Currently, about 35 turtles remain at the Anchorage Museum, where they are being cared for until federal officials find homes for them.

Abeln said turtles have already been sent to public institutions in New York, Florida, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and Indiana. She said the Anchorage Museum planned on keeping about five of the animals, and expects to put them on public display when they are bigger. All told, there were six species of turtles intercepted: Blanding's turtles, North American wood turtles, loggerhead musk turtles, diamondback terrapins, Kwangtung River turtles, and box turtles.