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1,000 Rare Turtles Intended To Hit The Black Market As ‘Handicrafts’ Seized In Raid

<p>Aaron T Goodman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0</p>

The bodies of more than 1,000 rare sea turtles, collectively weighing nearly 3,000 pounds, were recently seized by Vietnamese officials in a warehouse raid. Conservationists have fingered Vietnam as a hotbed of illegal wildlife trade - a 2006 National Geographic article labeled the country Asia's illegal animal "supermarket," and in a 2012 study a pair of criminologists determined the trade was flourishing - underscored by last Wednesday's police action that marked a record number of dead reptiles.

Unfortunately, all of the animals had been killed and soaked with preservatives by the time the police in Nha Trang, a resort town in Vietnam, performed the bust. "The turtles were all dead," said official Le Hong Thai, according to Agence France-Presse in Hanoi. "They were meant to be processed into handicrafts for export to China."

Due to the ongoing investigation, the Vietnamese officials are currently not releasing any more information regarding the detainees. But on Friday, Thanh Nien News reported that the warehouses were owned by Hoang Tuan Hai, 42, who had hired several people to hunt and stuff the turtles destined for China. For the time being, the police have turned the turtles over to Nha Trang Oceanography Institute.

A graphic video shows the scale of the raid [in Vietnamese]. (YouTube/Vietweek)

Although Vietnam has a reputation for being one of the worst offenders of the wildlife trade, the trade of marine turtles is prohibited by national law. Education for Nature-Vietnam, a group of conservationist advocates, lauded the raid, but officials "need to send the message that Vietnam is serious about prosecuting and punishing," Nguyen Phuong Dung, the organization's director said in a statement.

In March, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pushed a directive to combat wildlife trafficking, meant to curb the flow of ivory and rhino horn through the country via raids, increased border patrols and harsher prosecution, as well as increased education about the impacts of the animal trade.