Two wildlife traffickers have pleaded guilty in a federal court in California for illegally smuggling endangered sea cucumbers, highly valued in China for their culinary and medicinal uses, including their reputation as an aphrodisiac. Zunyu Zhao and Xionwei Xiao were charged with conspiring to import brown sea cucumbers, worth over $10,000, from Mexico between 2017 and 2019. Their sentencing is scheduled for September and November, and they could face up to 25 years in prison.
While the exact origin of the sea cucumbers hasn’t been disclosed, the defendants were caught with the smuggled creatures as they crossed from Mexico into the U.S. at Calexico. They have agreed to pay restitution to the Mexican government’s environmental protection agency.
Sea cucumbers are vital for marine ecosystems as they help maintain the ocean’s nutrient cycle by feeding on the sea floor. The brown sea cucumbers (Isostichopus fuscus) are overfished, leading to regulations on their harvest in many parts of the world. Despite their ecological importance, there is a thriving black market for sea cucumbers, especially in China, where they are considered a delicacy and have various medicinal uses.
This case highlights the commitment to combat wildlife trafficking and protect marine biodiversity, according to acting U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Haden.
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