Half a ton of endangered tortoiseshell intercepted by French customs

Half a ton of endangered tortoiseshell intercepted by French customs
French custom officials at Charles De Gaulle airport have seized almost half a ton of tortoiseshell from the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle species.

About 5,000 scales attributed to an estimated 380 Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) were discovered by customs officers on July 13, French authorities announced late Tuesday.

The illegal cargo was discovered packed inside 15 cartons sent by air freight from Haiti to Vietnam, in transit through Charles De Gaulle airport.

The cargo contained 496 kilograms of Hawksbill sea turtle shells, listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a critically endangered species.

Gerald Moussa Darmanin, the country's Minister of Public Action and Accounts, together with Rodolphe Gintz, Director General of Customs and Nicolas Hulot, France's Ecology minister, traveled to France's busiest air hub Tuesday to personally thank the officers for their outstanding work in preventing the shell smuggling.

“Tortoiseshell traffic is up 16.5 percent,” the customs service said, announcing the seizure of the contraband. “In the long term, looting poses risks to the survival of the species.”

“These scales are especially used in the crafts and to embellish furniture,” the French government statement added, noting that the cargo has an estimated value of 300,000 euros.

The turtle’s striking shell is also used to make jewelry which is sold on the black market across the globe.

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The capture and trade of Hawksbill sea turtles, as well as products derived from them, is outlawed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“Trafficking of endangered species is one of the largest smuggling operations in the world feeding other trafficking, and it is an important component to the erosion of biodiversity,” Hulot said Tuesday after inspecting the contraband at the airport.