U.S. Charges Hong Kong Rare Turtle Trafficker

Published: 15 March 2024

Eastern Box TurtleThe eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) lives in forested regions of the eastern United States and in some isolated populations in the Midwest. (Photo: Jarek Tuszyński, Wikimedia, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

U.S. authorities filed charges against a man who trafficked from the U.S. to Hong Kong protected turtles confined in packages falsely labeled as almonds and chocolate chip cookies.

Following his arrest on February 25 at New York's JFK International Airport, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has pressed charges against Sai Keung Tin, 53, a Hong Kong national, known by aliases such as "SK Tin", “Ricky Tin," and "Ji Yearlong," who is now facing four counts of wildlife trafficking.

Keung Tin allegedly participated in the trafficking of 40 eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) in June of last year. The turtles were intended for Hong Kong through international mail.

In the intercepted packages in Torrance, California, authorities found turtles wrapped in socks to safeguard their shells and minimize movement, aiming to avoid detection by authorities.

Sai Keung Tin was purportedly linked to Kang Juntao, a convicted Chinese criminal and notorious turtle smuggler, who enlisted turtle poachers in the U.S. to ship the turtles to intermediaries, who would then export the animals to Hong Kong. Kang is currently serving time in federal prison on money laundering charges. He is also suspected of smuggling at least 1,500 rare turtles from the U.S. to Hong Kong between June 2017 and December 2018, with an estimated value of US$2.25 million.

“Turtles with colorful markings are especially prized in the domestic and foreign pet trade market, particularly in China and Hong Kong,” according to the DOJ.

The U.S. authorities also underlined that these turtles “are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” – an international agreement to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become threatened with extinction.