Philippine authorities have confiscated more than 4,000 critically endangered turtles hidden in a Palawan Island warehouse and believed headed for the black market in Hong Kong, a conservation organization said Tuesday.
The Philippine forest turtles found packed tight in a metal bin on Thursday are worth about $1.4 million and represent more of the solitary and sensitive reptiles than previously thought to exist in the wild, said Eric Goode, a spokesman for the nonprofit Turtle Conservancy in New York.
No arrests have been made, and the investigation is ongoing.
Hundreds of the confiscated turtles have died. Many of the surviving turtles are being treated for injuries, including shell lesions, corneal ulcers and claw loss from extended contact with concrete, said Paul Gibbons, managing director of the Turtle Conservancy's Behler Chelonian Center in Ventura County.
About 1,900 of the turtles were deemed healthy enough to be returned to various locations on Palawan Island. Those in need of continued medical attention will be kept at a Katala Foundation rescue center staffed by specialists dispatched from Hong Kong, Singapore and the Turtle Conservancy.
Originally discovered in 1920, only four specimens of the Philippine forest turtles were known to science until 2001 when a wild population was found clinging to existence at the northern end of Palawan Island.
In 2009, the Turtle Conservancy partnered with the Katala Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving threatened wildlife in Palawan Island, to construct rescue facilities for Philippine forest turtles targeted by global animal traffickers.
"No one ever expected a crisis of this magnitude," Goode said.