Galapagos airport staff find 185 tortoises in suitcase during routine inspections
Since the tortoises' arrival at the Galapagos islands millions of years ago, they branched into 15 separate species, three of which are now extinct.
Staff at an airport on the Galapagos Islands found 185 tortoises in a suitcase that was heading for Ecuador's mainland, environment authorities said on Sunday. The discovery was made "during a routine inspection," the environment ministry said on Twitter, adding that police were investigating. Trafficking fauna off the Galapagos Islands is a crime punishable by between one and three years in prison. The islands are a protected wildlife area and home to unique species of flora and fauna. They lie 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of Ecuador.
On Twitter, Environment Minister Marcelo Mata blasted "these crimes against Ecuadorans' wild fauna and natural heritage."
The Galapagos Islands' star attraction are their giant tortoises, which arrived on the volcanic islands between three and four million years ago. It is believed that ocean currents deposited them on the islands after which they developed into 15 separate species, three of which are extinct.
The archipelago was made famous by British geologist and naturalist Charles Darwin's observations on evolution after visiting the islands.
The animals were quarantined and tested for disease and parasites before their release, to prevent any spread to the native fauna.
Scientists announced on Wednesday the discovery of a new species of giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador through genetic testing.
It isn't clear how these alien species will harm, or if they'll even affect, the Galapagos ecosystem.