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St. Paul man charged with illegally shipping box turtles to Hong Kong

Box turtles are in decline, and a protected species.

A man from St. Paul has been charged with illegally shipping dozens of turtles to Hong Kong.

Charges against Rene Vargas, 32, were filed by the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Erica MacDonald, on Tuesday, alleging he shipped three packages containing 38 North American box turtles to the city state in Asia.

Prior federal approval is required to export wildlife, but Vargas is accused of sending three marked as "toys" or "components."

This is in violation of the Lacey Act, a conservation law that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold.

Although native to the U.S. and Mexico, box turtles are a target for illegal trade to Hong Kong and China, where they are used in food, traditional medicine and to be kept as pets.

They are in decline as a result of this trade, as well as a loss of habitat, and while not currently threatened with extinction, they are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora treaty.

This is a part of the Endangered Species Act, which stipulates that efforts must be made to prevent its further decline.

He will make his initial court appearance at a later date.

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