Man Caught With 51 Turtles In His Pants Pleads Guilty To Smuggling Many More

With 51 turtles in his pants, a 27-year-old man who claims to be a college student was caught trying to cross the border. The 51 turtles in his pants exhibited odd bulges, which led border agents to find turtles taped to his body, including under his crotch.

Kai Xu is a Canadian resident who lives in Windsor, Ontario. He attempted to cross the border into the United States, then step back into Canada with a large shipment of critters in August, 2014. Federal agents observed him pull out boxes before crossing the border back into Canada. He then emerged with bulges indicating turtles had been affixed to all parts of his body, in an attempt to avoid having the turtles confiscated as he returned home.

As the New York Post reports, though the turtles were discovered, he wasn’t arrested until September 2014. Even up to the day of his arrest he sent 1,000 turtles on their way to Shanghai with the aid of a runner. He has been in federal custody since then, and just yesterday he pleaded guilty to six charges with 10-year sentences. Judge John Corbett O’Meara will make a decision on April 12, in an Ann Arbor, Michigan, courthouse.

Forty-one turtles were taped to his legs and 10 were taped under his crotch. This wasn’t Xu’s first dealing with the creatures. He had been sending them into China illegally. In China he can get up to three times as much as he pays for them across the Pacific. China uses turtles for food, medicine, and more. He can fetch from $30,000 to $125,000 per shipment.

The reasons that would lead a man to put 51 turtles in his pants and try to fool Canadian customs officials is related to intense turtle trading in China. The demand to put turtles on dinner tables has led to many rare species getting fished into severe depletion from neighboring countries. This behavior led to the Asian Turtle Crisis. In June of this year, a catch of 4,000 critically endangered Philippine turtles were confiscated from a Chinese national. The turtles were kept in horrendous condition and piled together.

Philippine wildlife news agency Mongabay reported on what Wildlife Conservation Society’s Dr. Brian D. Horne thought.

“What’s startling is that our best understanding put the total number of this species left in the wild at about 2,500 individuals. So we’ve either seriously underestimated the number of turtles, or this very well could mean that [the illegal traffickers] pretty much captured almost all of the wild turtles remaining.”

Millions of turtles caught stateside are consumed in China each year. Some U.S. states have tried to halt the turtle population decline, and enacted laws to prevent people from collecting turtles for commercial reasons.

Turtles smuggled out the United States could end up on dinner tables, in Chinese turtle farms, or as part of a traditional Chinese medicine concoction. In traditional Chinese thought, the turtle is seen as a symbol of longevity.

In response to activists, as late as last month British grocery chain Tesco stopped butchering turtles in its Chinese stores. British activists sited how the store would never be allowed to do such a practice in its stores outside of China, and that the killing and sale of Chinese turtles in its stores further puts pressure on the demand for foreign turtles.

And as for the fate of those 51 turtles confiscated from Kai Xu, the ones recovered were sent to the Detroit Zoo where they can live in captivity and not be used for food. Xu said he smuggled 1,600 turtles from the United States between April and September, so only a small amount was recovered. Encountering a man with 51 turtles in his pants would have to be one of the stranger takeaways for border officials that day.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]