Galapagos policeman given three years for tortoise trafficking

An Ecuadorian policeman was arrested when 185 baby Galapagos giant tortoises (similar to these young ones pictured in January 2018) were found in his suitcase, wrapped in plastic
An Ecuadorian policeman was arrested when 185 baby Galapagos giant tortoises (similar to these young ones pictured in January 2018) were found in his suitcase, wrapped in plastic Pablo COZZAGLIO AFP/File
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Quito (AFP)

An Ecuadorian policeman was sentenced to three years in prison for trying to traffic 185 baby giant tortoises off the Galapagos Islands.

The reptiles were no more than three months old when they were found in airport luggage, destined for Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador, during a routine inspection in March.

The policeman was also fined $639,000 and must apologize publicly on national media, the environment ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

The sentence constitutes "a precedent for the benefit of nature, fauna, biodiversity and most of all for the honesty that the planet deserves," said Environment Minister Marcelo Mata.

The policeman, identified as Nixon Alejandro P.D., was arrested when the tortoises were discovered on Baltra Island.

The baby tortoises had been individually wrapped in plastic, and 32 have died.

"The trafficking of protected species is a blow to nature, which in this instance could not be carried out thanks to the coordination with other institutions," said Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park.

The archipelago, situated 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, contains unique flora and fauna not seen anywhere else on earth and is part of a biosphere reserve.

The Galapagos, a World heritage site, are where Charles Darwin's observation of birds and tortoises on different islands gave rise to his theory of evolution.

The tortoises -- the largest in the world -- are the volcanic islands' star attraction, but are listed as endangered.

According to the Galapagos Conservation Trust, the giant tortoise arrived in the Galapagos from mainland South America about two to three million years ago, diversifying into 14 species on different islands.

About 1.5-1.8 meters (5-6 feet) long, the slow-breeding creatures can live more than 100 years.