A family brought in four painted turtles after a trip to China, perplexing customs officials. (U.S Customs and Border Protection)
U.S. Customs officers were shell-shocked when they came upon a quartet of painted turtles being brought into the country by an American family returning from a trip to China.
The unidentified family arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport on Sept. 5 and told U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers about the four turtles.
Upon seeing the reptiles, the officers directed the family to an agriculture specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services because the turtles’ shells were hand-painted.
The unidentified family told officials they bought these four painted turtles from a street vendor in China. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
The family said they purchased the turtles from a street vendor, CBP said in a statement, noting that in some Asian cultures turtles represent longevity, food fortune, fertility, vitality and great patience.
On Sept. 6, a USFWS inspector removed the paint from the turtles’ shells and examined them, identifying them as red-eared slider turtles.
CBP said turtles imported into the U.S. as pets require import permits — which the family did not have.
According to Wide Open Pets, the red-eared slider is listed as one of the 10 types of turtles that people can have as pets. They are found all over the United States.
Officials said imported turtles pose health concerns as young turtles because they are especially susceptible to carrying salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention connected a multi-state salmonella outbreak last year to pet turtles.
The family was allowed to keep the turtles after the inspector gave them a warning and a one-time permit.