TSA Europe Assists with Illegal Turtle Confiscations

by Henk Zwartepoorte 


Over the past few years in Hong Kong, large numbers of illegally imported and/or traded turtles have been confiscated. On one hand, these confiscations are a good sign of effective law enforcement, but on the other hand it indicates that the mass illegal trade in Asia is on-going. The CITES Hong Kong authorities, in close contact with the Kadoorie Farm Botanic Gardens (KFBG), has offered these confiscated turtles to the TSA for re-homing within TSA assurance colonies and breeding programs.
TSA Europe has played a vital role in re-homing significant numbers of turtles within the European zoos organized within the European Association for Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) and the privately managed European Studbook Foundation (ESF). The year 2010 was a particularly busy year for re-homing confiscated shipments.


A history of cooperation with KFBG goes as far back as 2001 when 10,000 turtles were confiscated in Hong Kong and about 6,000 were shipped to the USA and Europe. December 2001 through January 2002 was a very hectic, but well-organized time in all three parts of the world. This large operation put the TSA on the map worldwide. Over the past decade, a total of nine shipments came to Europe comprised of 1500 turtles representing 20 species.

Early in the past decade, the so-called “paperwork period” took a long time, too long some times. During this time, some of the confiscated animals unnecessarily died while waiting in Hong Kong for shipment. These “paperwork periods” has become much shorter in recent years and cooperation with KFBG, CITES, and Hong Kong broker has improved significantly. This improved communication has resulted in much better results for the confiscated animals.


During 2010 three shipments of a total of 122 turtles were sent to Europe.  

April - 37 turtles arrived: 20 Astrochelys radiata, 1 Geochelone platynota, 1 Cuora mouhoti, 10 Cuora amboinensis, 1 Heosemys depressa, 2 Siebenrockiella crassicollis, 1 Cuora flavomarginata and 1 Indotestudo elongata

July - 39 turtles arrived:  7 Heosemys grandis, 10 Cuora amboinensis, 10 Cyclemys dentata, 8 Cuora galbinifrons, 3 Cuora boureti and 1 Malayemys macrocephala

November - 46 turtles arrived: 32 Hieremys annandalii, 8 Heosemys grandis, 2 Notochelys platynota, 4 Siebenrockiella crassicollis


All of the animals arrived at Amsterdam airport and as always the KLM animal hotel staff people, airport agent Malenstein Air and customs staff were very cooperative. The animals were distributed among EAZA zoos and ESF privates on the day of their arrival. Thankfully, the private recipients always arrived on time at the airport or at the Rotterdam Zoo and someone was always prepared to arrange transport to the various final destinations within Europe. Beyond the Netherlands, some animals were rehomed as far away as Poland, the Czech Republic, France, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, and Austria. We wish to thank all of these private individuals for making these transfers within Europe possible.

All animals will be included in EAZA and ESF studbook/breeding programmes and as such will be part of ex situ assurance colonies. With these colonies, the TSA is aiming at securing these endangered and critically endangered species for the future.

Given not only the sheer number, but also the size of some of these turtles, shipment costs are anticipated to be high and any support that you can provide would be appreciated. One of the hallmarks of the TSA is our ability to respond quickly to wildlife crises, but we can only do so with your support.