Turtle trafficking investigation gets help from Alberta paleontologist

Don Brinkman played a key role in the investigation into a herbal supply company that pleaded guilty this week to unlawfully importing protected species of turtles and tortoises. The Alberta paleontologist talked to the Homestretch about his experience.

Thousands of tortoises, turtles found in illegal shipment

Several pallets of 500-gram bags of turtle and tortoise parts were seized by Environment Canada. (Submitted by Don Brinkman)

Environment Canada announced this week that an Ontario herbal supply company pleaded guilty to unlawfully importing protected species of turtles and tortoises into Canada.

Don Brinkman, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, played a key role in the investigation. He spoke on the Calgary Eyeopener radio program Wednesday.

  • Click the audio button above to hear the full interview

Brinkman specializes in fossilized turtles and was able to identify several endangered species from several pallets worth of shell fragments packaged in 500-gram bags.

One of the endangered species identified in the investigation was a Manouria impressa, otherwise known as an impressed turtle. (Environment Canada)

Investigators couldn't say exactly how many turtles and tortoises had been imported, but Brinkman said it was easily "in the thousands" of individual animals.

The unlawfully imported material filled two sea containers that originated from Hong Kong.

Carbo Herbal Supplies Inc. was fined almost $19,000 and ordered to forfeit all the items seized during the investigation.

It took Brinkman two days to sift through all the material.

Endangered species

He found three kinds of tortoises, all of which are on the endangered species list.

The other reptiles he identified as various kinds of Asian turtles, including an Asian box turtle that can close up its shell — one he identified from the structure of the shell's unique hinge.

Brinkman said the key to identifying species from shell fragments is "knowing what part of the shell you've got."

"Experience with fossils makes that easy for me," he said.

He pointed out that many turtle bones have species-specific features that make it possible to identify illegally imported animals. He assumed many of the animals were wild caught, but there was no way to know for certain.

Turtle and tortoise parts are sold around the world as ingredients in "traditional medicines." The investigation into the company's shipments was the sixth of its kind.

When asked whether the fine was an adequate penalty, Brinkman said the company's guilty plea will have an impact.

"They'll be closely watched now in terms of future shipments," said Brinkman. "Certainly the impact on the company is greater than just the monetary loss of the fine."


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