A turtle expert in Windsor, Ont., says because it's illegal to import turtles without a permit into Canada the high demand for the shelled reptiles may be pushing smugglers to bring them into the country.
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A Windsor man was charged in both Canada and the United States last week, after he was found with 51 turtles strapped to his body trying to enter through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel in early August. He was denied bail.
According to the Canadian Government, an import permit is required for turtles and tortoises from all countries. The animals must have been in the owner's personal possession in the country of origin and accompany the owner to Canada.
Please complete an Application for Permit to Import at least 30 days before the date the import and send it to a local CFIA office in the province into which you wish to import the animal(s).
Steve Mark, who used to work with the province's parks department and has rescued former pet turtles, said turtle sales are up by at least 20 per cent since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out last month.
"Kids, with their imagination, are thinking if they got four of them maybe they'll turn into the ninja turtles," said Mark.
Back in the 1990's when the original Ninja Turtles movie was released, Mark said he saw the same boost in demand for the creatures.
"No one thinks there's anything wrong with having a pet turtle," he said. "So they go to a pet shop and they buy a turtle. Nine times out of 10, that turtle was illegally acquired somewhere along the line."
Mark said because it's illegal to import turtles into Canada, there's a big pay off for smugglers who get away with it.
"One example of a species I know sells for about $25 in the U.S. and sells for $600 up here," he said.
With money on the line and demand up, Gil Comtois who owns a store in Windsor with his daughter, said he fields calls from all over Ontario from people trying to get their hands on a large number of turtles.
"What they'll do is contact us as store owners, find out where legitimately we're getting it from and then try to go through a back door somehow with those legitimate providers and get them cheaper and illegally," explained Comtois.
Another downside to the highturtle demand is the reptiles often grow to a size where they become too much to handle and people release them into the wild, which causes many problems for the local turtle population.