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Illegally importing turtles and turtle eggs from China, including some potentially endangered species, for sale as pets has landed a Calgary man a $35,000 fine.

Justice Bruce Fraser on Friday accepted a joint submission from Crown prosecutor Omelia Tedesco-White and defence counsel Greg Dunn to hand Zhongmin Zheng the hefty fine under the Wild Animal and Planet Protection and Regulation of Interprovincial Trade Act.

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Zheng, 42, pleaded guilty to two charges under the federal legislation.

Tedesco-White told Fraser the legislation was passed after in 1975 Canada became the 10th country to ratify the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

“(The act) is the legislation that upholds this Convention in Canada,” Tedesco-White said.

Reading from a statement of agreed facts signed by Dunn and Zheng, the prosecutor said wildlife officers began investigating the Calgary man on May 24, 2022, when Canada Border Services Agency members discovered two boxes containing live turtles had arrived in Mississauga from China.

“The importer of the boxes was Zhongmin Zheng,” she told the Calgary Court of Justice judge.

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Tedesco-White said a search of the importer history from Jan. 1 to May 23, 2022, “showed Mr. Zheng had imported eight packages during that period, most of which were declared as ‘Children’s Building Blocks.’ ”

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Investigators then conducted a controlled delivery of three shipments to Zheng’s northwest Calgary home. A subsequent search of the residence on May 27, 2022, resulted in the seizure of 53 live turtles, two dead ones and 33 turtle eggs.

“The turtles and eggs were all being kept in the basement of the residence,” the prosecutor said.

“Officers noted a strong ammonia smell that permeated up to the main floor of the residence. The water in the terrariums was a yellow-brown colour and contained suspended solid waste. the water in some terrariums appeared gelatinous.”

An examination of the reptiles by veterinarian at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, where they were taken, determined “many of the containers contained water that was markedly fouled by food particulate and fecal matter,” Tedesco-White said.

Some of the eggs and turtles were determined to be under the appendix-II category under CITES, which “includes species that are not currently threatened (with extinction), but may become so if their trade is not monitored,” the Convention states.

Appendix-I includes species threatened with extinction.

Dunn told Fraser that Zheng, a Canadian citizen who emigrated to Canada from mainland China in 2014, grew up with turtles as pets.

If Zheng, who was given three years to pay off his fine, doesn’t do so, he will face time behind bars.

“If you don’t pay the fine, you’ll have to go to jail for 290 days,” Fraser said.

X: @KMartinCourts

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