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article imageCanadian paleontologist helps crack turtle smuggling case

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 6, 2015 in Crime
Vancouver - When wildlife officials needed help identifying several species of turtles and tortoises whose shells and shell fragments were sent unlawfully to an Ontario herbal supply company, they knew paleontologist Don Brinkman was their man.
Brinkman, with the Royal Tyrrell Museum, is an expert on fossil turtles, and he played a key role in the investigation, The Calgary Herald reports. He's been studying the reptiles for three decades.
This isn't the first time he's assisted with investigations by Environment Canada, but this case was the biggest one he's ever worked on. For three days Brinkman sifted assiduously through a container holding 945 turtle plastrons (the hard shell on the turtle's belly), 2,454 turtle shells, 52 bags of turtle shell fragments inside 815 cartons, and then a second container stuffed with 224 bags of fragments in 842 cartons.
At the end of those three days, he helped bring the investigation to a close after identifying five endangered turtle species and three endangered tortoise species, The Calgary Herald reports.
In order to identify different species of turtles and tortoises from shell fragments, "knowing what part of the shell you've got," is important he said, per CBC News Calgary.
"Experience with fossils makes that easy for me," he said.
Many turtle bones have features specific to that species, making it possible to identify illegally imported animals. While he thinks many of the reptiles were wild-caught, there's not really any way to know for sure.
All around the world, body parts of turtles and tortoises are sold to be used as ingredients in traditional medicines, and CBC News notes that the investigation into the company's shipments is the sixth of its kind.
In China's prospering economy, freshwater turtles and tortoises from throughout Southeast Asia and from around the world are winding up in Chinese markets in huge numbers, National Geographic reports. For the most part the unfortunate animals wind up on the dinner table, but they are also sold for traditional Chinese medicine and the exotic pet trade. They are in such heavy demand that the numbers of many species have been hugely depleted, creating what National Geographic calls the "Asian turtle crisis."
As many as four Chinese species may now be extinct in the wild and more than 50 percent of all Southeast Asian turtles species in the region are listed as endangered by The World Conservation Union, or IUCN, National Geographic reports. Out of the 90 Southeast Asian species, 67 are threatened, and that's up from 33 in 1996.
The shipping containers that made their way to Canada originated in Hong Kong, CBC News reports.
The company involved in the case, Carbo Herbal Supplies Inc., was fined nearly $19,000 and ordered to forfeit the cargo seized during the investigation.
Earlier this week, Qin Zhou, who is listed as the company's director, pleaded guilty to six charges under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, RCI reports. Carbo Herbal Supplies Inc., of Toronto Ontario, imports and sells products for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
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