Thousands of freshwater turtles, rescued when an illegal shipment bound for China was intercepted, are headed to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Nearly 160 crates of live turtles, some endangered, were seized in Mexico City two weeks ago. More than 250 of the 15,000 turtles were found dead in the crates. Species included Mexican giant musk turtles, white-lipped turtles, narrow-bridged musk turtles and red-eared terrapin or red-eared slider turtles.

The find comes amid growing concerns about the delivery and consumption of exotic creatures and their possible transmission of the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 has been linked with bats, with the first identified cases tracked to a wet market with live animals in Wuhan, China.

After the seizure, the turtles remained in boxes at the Mexico City airport. Alerted on social media, the environmental protection agency PROFEPA rescued them, but not before many more died due to poor conditions.

The remaining 9,888 turtles are being sent to sanctuaries in Merida and Chetumal for protection and more suitable weather conditions, according to Diario de Yucatan.

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