Police Find Live Plastic-Wrapped Tortoises Hidden In Cardboard Box

They must have been so scared.

The baby Galapagos tortoises were wrapped in what looked like cellophane or plastic tape. Then they were shoved inside a cardboard box, one on top of another.

When authorities found them last week, the tortoises were on a bus to Lima, Peru, after they'd been smuggled out of the Galapagos Islands. If they hadn't been caught, the animals would have been put on a plane to Europe, and sold into the illegal pet trade.

"They would have gone through a lot of suffering and cruelty for sure," DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), told The Dodo. "Their plight is consistent with the plight of hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of other live animals who are smuggled out of the wild every day."

While it's not clear how long the tortoises were in captivity, Schubert believes that any length of time would have been incredibly stressful.

"They wouldn't have been fed or watered," Schubert said. "They can sustain some period of time without food or water, but they're not indestructible. I'm also sure there was fear."

The plastic wrapping was probably used to keep the tortoises quiet, according to Schubert.

Galapagos tortoises being illegally trafficked
The tortoises wrapped in plastic | SERFOR

"I suspect that was to prevent them from moving about too much in the box, so they wouldn't make noise that might draw attention to the box," Schubert said.

Unfortunately, two tortoises were already dead when wildlife officials found them, which is bad news for the species in general. While there are several different species of Galapagos tortoise, most of them are endangered - and three species are already extinct.

Galapagos tortoises being illegally trafficked
Officials cutting the plastic from the tortoises | SERFOR

"Every tortoise who calls Galapagos home is in trouble, and the fact that someone tried to abscond with 29 juvenile tortoises for the international pet trade is just outrageous," Schubert said.

The good news is that the tortoises will be returned to the Galapagos Islands - in the meantime, they're being cared for at a Peruvian zoo. But other illegally trafficked animals aren't so lucky.

"This should be yet another wake-up call - not only to people in wildlife law enforcement authorities or government officials, but to all of us," Schubert added. "We all have to do more individually and collectively to stamp out this obnoxious, illegal trade in wildlife."

If you want to help stop the illegal wildlife trade, you can make a donation to AWI.