ROYAL OAK (WWJ/AP) — The Detroit Zoo is caring for more than 1,000 turtles that authorities say are tied to an international smuggling ring.

Zoo officials say a number of the turtles were found stuffed into rubber snow boots and cereal boxes inside a Canadian man’s luggage at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The incident is reportedly connected to a smuggling ring led by another Canadian man who attempted to cross the Detroit-Windsor border in August with 51 turtles concealed in his pants.

The 1,007 confiscated reptiles – mostly juvenile hatchlings less than a month old – include more than 750 diamondback terrapins as well as red-necked pond turtles — also known as Kwangtung river turtles — spotted turtles, wood turtles, Blanding’s turtles, red-eared sliders and African spur-thighed tortoises.

“The conditions of the turtles vary. It isn’t surprising that some are not doing well given the way they were being smuggled,” DZS chief life sciences officer Scott Carter said. “Most are not of conservation concern, but some are endangered species.”

Kai Xu was charged with smuggling, illegal trading and exporting after border agents at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel found more than 50 live turtles strapped to his body and hidden between his legs. The turtles were found after Xu’s SUV re-crossed the border and was stopped in Windsor.

This incident followed a similar one last year in which another Canadian man was caught trying to smuggle 70 live turtles and tortoises into the U.S. over the Ambassador Bridge. In July, 2013, Xin Hong Tong of Windsor was charged with smuggling, non-reporting, making false statements and attempting to evade duties and taxes in that case.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents asked the Detroit Zoo to assist with the turtles’ care while the investigation continues.

 

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