NEWS

Stolen tortoises return to Greece

BUDAPEST (AP) – Hungarian customs officials sent 320 tortoises back to Greece yesterday, nearly a year after rescuing them from smugglers who intended to sell them as pets. The tortoises were confiscated in June 2001 from smugglers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at Hungary’s border with Yugoslavia, 185 kilometers (115 miles) southeast of Budapest. The reptiles, which were taken from their natural habitat near the Greek border with FYROM, can be sold for as much as $130 each in Hungary, or more in Western Europe. «These tortoises are on the edge of extinction, captured in large numbers for their commercial value,» said Katalin Rodics, who heads Hungary’s Nature Protection Office. The smugglers had packed the tortoises tightly into boxes without food and water. The reptiles were too weak to return to Greece immediately and were placed in the temporary care of the Budapest Zoo – where 40 succumbed. The turtles were flown to Thessaloniki, from where they will transported over land by the Greek environmental authorities to their natural habitat.