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CBP Officers Seize King Cobras and Endangered Sea Turtle Scutes

Release Date: 
December 4, 2015

CINCINNATI— U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers conducting express consignment operations in Cincinnati recently intercepted illegal importations of Hawksbill sea turtle shells and dead king cobra snakes.  The shipments containing these protected and endangered wildlife products were turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Scutes covered in paint

Scutes covered in paint

CBP officers discovered two separate shipments containing a total of 631 sea turtle scutes, which are part of a turtle’s shell.  Smugglers had sanded the scutes clean of barnacles and covered them with a white, water-soluble paint in an attempt to disguise their identity.  FWS wildlife inspectors estimate that the scutes were the remains of at least 29 large, mature sea turtles between 60 to 75 years old. Officials estimates it will take decades for Hawksbill turtles to recover from the loss of this many of its population.

Seized King Cobras that perished in shipping

Seized King Cobras that perished in shipping

In a separate shipment King Cobras were found wrapped in socks and concealed within baskets in an attempt to evade detection by law enforcement. Although the snakes were dead upon arrival into the United States, it is suspected they were sent live for breeding purposes and perished in transit. 

“Our CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce federal wildlife laws that protect vulnerable species, such as hawksbill sea turtles,” said CBP Cincinnati Port Director Richard Gillespie. “Historically, CBP and FWS have worked together to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, and this inter-agency cooperation is critical to our success.”

Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered and are listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES), which prohibits trade for species threatened with extinction.  In the United States, hawksbills are also protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The turtles are hunted for their beautifully colored shells composed of bony plates called scutes, which are prized for their use in jewelry, hair ornaments, guitar picks, and other decorative purposes.

Last modified: 
February 3, 2021