Smuggled Ryukyu Black-breasted Leaf Turtles Head Home to Japan

Post Date:  Saturday 9 March 2019
Category:  Nature Conservation

(HONG KONG, 9th March 2019) In October 2018, 60 Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles were intercepted at Hong Kong
International Airport and seized by the Hong Kong Customs. The turtles were sent to the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic
Garden Wild Animal Rescue Centre for temporary care. On 8 March 2019, four months after they arrived 59 turtles
started the long journey back to their native home in Japan.


The endemic Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle has been designated as one of the “National Natural Monuments of Japan”, and trading and captive keeping are strictly regulated by law.

The confiscation and arrival at the KFBG Wild Animal Rescue Centre

The Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles (Geoemyda japonica) were discovered in the checked-in baggage of an incoming Japanese passenger. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) took over the case and subsequently charged the suspect for illegal import of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix II species into Hong Kong.

KFBG Wild Animal Rescue Centre received the turtles on 30 Oct 2018 and assessed their health condition on arrival,
fortunately most were alive. One turtle had marks on its shell and after making contact with a turtle expert in Japan we
discovered that this turtle originated from a population that was part of a scientific monitoring study in Northern Okinawa. All turtles were provided suitable husbandry care and remained at the Rescue Center for four months.


60 Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles were transferred to the KFBG Rescue Center soon after their seizure in Hong Kong.

Repatriation process

KFBG, AFCD and The CITES Management Authority of Japan have collaborated closely on this repatriation project. The turtles were carefully placed in cotton bags which were then carefully placed in a specially designed wooden transport crate. The transport of live animals by air is governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animal Regulations and care was taken to strictly follow the regulations. The CITES Management Authority of Japan offered to cover the costs of the captive care of the turtles in KFBG.


Japanese film crew from NHK taking footage of the turtles in their temporary enclosure at KFBG.

Plight of the Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles

Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles are endemic to three islands in Japan - Okinawajima, Kumejima, and Tokashikijima.
They live in terrestrial habitats with damp forest floors, and along the banks of mountain streams.


The turtles were carefully placed in cotton bags which were then transferred to a specially designed wooden transport crate.

The turtle has been designated as one of the National Natural Monuments of Japan, and trading and captive keeping are strictly regulated by law. Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtle is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and regulated under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (the Ordinance) (Cap. 586) in Hong Kong. The species is classified as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species in 2000, recognizing the vulnerability of the species.

There is concern over the reduction in the distribution of this species due to changes in its habitat (e.g. deforestation),
land use, illegal capture and illegal wildlife trade. In this case, there are clues showing that these turtles are caught from
the wild. In a recent study, the Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles were found in the pet trade in North America and
online trade on Chinese pet websites. Pet shops and online trade should be monitored to ensure they do not become
hotbeds of illegal trade.


The turtles are packed and ready to commence the long journey to their native Japan.

What you can do

Today habitat loss, unsustainable collection for food, traditional medicine and the wildlife trade are the major global threats faced by many wild turtles and other wildlife. You can help save these and other endangered animals by not buying live wildlife especially if you do not know the source, and by not consuming or purchasing wildlife products. If
there are any suspected illegal activities involving wildlife, please report to the Police.

According to the Ordinance (Cap. 586), import, export, re-export or possession of Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles in
Hong Kong would require licence issued in advance by AFCD. Any person contravening the requirements of
Cap. 586 will be prosecuted and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of HK$ 10,000,000 and to imprisonment for 10 years. The seized specimens would be forfeited to the government.