Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

San Francisco Man Sentenced to Prison for Smuggling Rare Tortoises

June 29, 2005


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The charges against Kwong relate to 36 tortoises. Another 33 tortoises were seized from Kwongs house but not included in the charges.

Radiated tortoises have been protected under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1973. With their distinctive markings and dramatic colors, the tortoises, which can grow to 18 inches long, are popular among collectors. Baby radiated tortoises, such as those smuggled by Kwong, are valued at $1,250 each.

Besides being popular with pet collectors, radiated tortoises also are sought for professed medicinal purposes.

"Theyre not only being hit by the pet collection trade, theyre being hit by poachers for the Asian medicinal market," McCloud said.

Burmese star tortoises are even more valuable, with adults selling for up to $7,000 apiece and juveniles worth about half that much. Although they are not listed under the ESA, Burmese star tortoises are extremely rare. They are found only in a national preserve in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

While it is not illegal to possess tortoises that were legally imported, smuggling them in without the required permits is against the law. And the illegal trade in tortoises is growing, Special Agent McCloud said.

"In the last few years weve seen a huge increase in the number of these species being smuggled into the United States," he said. "In the past three years alone, weve seized about 500 tortoises."

After agents seize the tortoises they are screened for disease and treated, if needed, and placed in zoos. The tortoises seized from the illegal shipments to Kwong were placed in zoos in Texas and New York.

-- FWS --