Trafficking of 185 Galapagos Tortoises, A Possible Million-Dollar Industry

PRESS RELEASE
April 17, 2021

The accused police officer, Nixon Alejandro P.D., could have a sentence reduction of up to one third of the maximum penalty (down to 2 years); moreover, the origin of the species found could not be determined due to lack of time for relevant expert opinions.

The Galapagos National Park (PNG), not the Ombudsman’s Office, will be the private prosecutor. As per the determination of the judge, the PNG has no conflict of interest, despite the fact that this administrative body is the custodian [of the flora and fauna in the national park] and has the obligation to protect the tortoises throughout the protected areas it oversees [and where the tortoises originated].

During cargo review activities at Baltra Airport on March 28, Galapagos National Park rangers prevented the attempted trafficking of 185 giant Galapagos tortoises, which were wrapped in plastic in a suitcase and bound for Guayaquil. Ten of these specimens were found dead; following their transfer to the Fausto Llerena breeding center on Santa Cruz Island, five more turtles died possibly due to stress due to the separation of their habitat.*


*Editorial note: A press release from Fiscalía Ecuador released on 19 April 2021 regarding the ongoing trial of the police officer that has been charged notes that 16 of the 185 tortoises have perished.


The case is being tried in the multi-competent judicial unit of Santa Cruz, in Galapagos, (as shown in the file on the page http://www.funcionjudicial.gob.ec Causas No. 20332-2021-00141) with a hearing scheduled for April 18 of this year. The proceedings will examine the alleged responsibility of police officer Nixon Alejandro P.D. in the trafficking of turtles, who was charged with the crime against flora and fauna, a crime which carries a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison.

All threatened, protected, vulnerable species found in Galapagos must be “protected” by the Galapagos National Park, even more so in the case of the “iconic” species of the islands.

The Ecuadorian Coordination for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA) says in its statement that the apprehension of a police officer – less than 24 hours after the crime – cannot be considered alone when this type of case corresponds to the work of organized crime.

For its part, the Office of the Ombudsman for the People and Nature DPA, Galapagos Delegation, through its Delegate Dr. Milton Castillo – under the legal attribution of Art. 38 of the COGEP – attended the Representation of Nature within the Judicial Process for trafficking of turtles as a private prosecutor.

The Judge has rejected such participation, determining that the PNG is exclusively the representative in Galapagos of this process; this is a decision which we reject because the defense of nature, its protection and care is of public interest, especially when the Ombudsman’s Office has legal powers for the Defense of Nature.

Milton Castillo, provincial delegate of the Ombudsman’s Office, pointed out that “the hearing will be held on April 18, where there is still no evidence to know how traffickers of protected species operate in the Galapagos;” he fears that we may find ourselves before a new case of impunity.

In addition to this, the judicial procedure that is being carried out against an alleged person “solely” responsible, is the institution ofdirect procedure” which shortens the presentation of all the evidence that is carried out in a single hearing. [“Direct procedure”] limits the presentation of all the evidence, expertise, and testimony that demonstrates the place from which they could have been stolen, in which phase of their life cycle they were in before they were “packed” in the suitcase, ”as well as [evidence regarding] all those who could have participated in the event.”

CEDENMA, in its statement, demands that citizens must be informed of the actions that are carried out as an integral process of a transparent democracy in order that the environmental laws for the protection of nature are complied with.

Former Director of the National Park, Jorge Carrión, in an article for Mongabay in 2018, confirms that one of the great threats to Galapagos is the illegal trafficking of species, where the market is presumed to be linked to the Asian continent and the black market.

The price of a Galapagos tortoise varies depending on its maturity, a young tortoise costs $5,000- $7,000 USD and the adult ones reach $60,000 USD each. The seizure of 185 species is presumed to total $1,295,000 USD.

Our organization is vigilant in ensuring that all the authorities which have responsibilities in protecting Galapagos do so – under the protection of the Constitution, the Law, but above all, as a form of Transparency.

The giant tortoises of Galapagos, an ICONIC SPECIES OF THE ISLANDS, are a fundamental part of the trophic chain of their ecosystems. They are dispersers of seeds and they shape the ecosystem with their movements, creating better conditions for plants, animals and other species to develop.




Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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