|Officers had been watching the shore of the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ont., from outside a nearby church for most of the day when the boat carrying the contraband finally arrived. On the other side of the river, a U.S. border control helicopter had hovered in wait to follow it across, but then taken off when the vessel dawdled to avoid tipping off its operators. Now the boat was here, and the van they were monitoring pulled up to the river bank.|
A woman on the boat unloaded three boxes that were quickly placed in the van by a man. That was the cue. As they swooped in on the stunned smugglers — prompting the woman to nosedive onto the boat and sail away — the officers seized the boxes. Inside were 205 reptiles, among them Chinese striped turtles, African side neck turtles, South American red-footed tortoises, a serrated hinge-back tortoise, green iguanas and Jackson’s chameleons.
|Wildlife is now the fourth largest illegal trade after drugs, counterfeit money and human trafficking, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and valued at roughly $19 billion (U.S.) per year globally.|
It’s a lucrative business. A turtle bought for 50 cents in the US can be sold for hundreds of dollars. Even if the animals die in transit, smugglers will still make a profit. A high mortality rate is a given. Which animals can be brought into Canada — and how — is determined by a myriad of laws enforced by three federal departments: Environment Canada is responsible for laws related to conservation, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency oversees laws related to the health of animals, and the Canadian Border Services Agency ensures any imports are properly declared.