The Case of the Smuggled Turtles Ends in Two Arrests (People, Not Turtles)

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Indian Star Tortoises were one of the species of turtles and tortoises seized at LAX

Two Japanese men were apprehended and charged at Los Angeles International airport on Monday for committing the crime of turtle smuggling.

Atsushi Yamagami and Norihide Ushirozako of Osaka, Japan were allegedly found to be carrying 55 endangered live turtles and tortoises stuffed into snack food boxes in a suitcase. Both men were charged with one count each of illegally importing wildlife and one count of violating the Endangered Species Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Indeed, some may feel that would be justified in light of  exposing those poor creatures to freezing air-plane hold conditions and bringing them to a strange country, to say nothing of the legal implications of smuggling them in.

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However shocked you are that anyone could bring such cute little critters so close to death, the real revelation of this story is the scale of the operation to smuggle turtles into the U.S. from Japan in the first place. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said that Yamagami and Ushirozako are thought to be part of a smugglers ring which the Feds have been following, dubbed “Operation Flying Turtle” by investigators. Another man accused of being part of the operation, Hiroki Uetsuki, pleaded guilty to smuggling 42 turtles and tortoises into Hawaii in August 2010.

(See TIME’s Top 10 Strange Mass Animal Deaths.)

These turtles and tortoises, however, do not win the ‘most interesting animal smuggled into LAX’ title. Because when you consider the pygmy monkeys stuffed in a traveler’s pants or the songbirds strapped to a passengers leg, it becomes clear that this airport is the world’s newest hot-spot for endangered species. (Via Yahoo News.)