A man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle over 10% of one of the world’s most endangered tortoise populations into Thailand just a day after the conclusion of a CITES meeting where delegates resolved to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade.
Two wildlife smugglers have been arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, for attempting to bring 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) illegally into the country. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and occur only in Madagascar. Wrapped up alive and hidden in suitcases, the tortoises were flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi.
Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, commented, “The criminals behind this shipment of ploughshare tortoises have effectively stolen over 10 percent of the estimated population in the wild.”
The beautiful appearance and rarity of these species has driven their demand in the black market pet trade. Both species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that their trade is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. The radiated tortoise has suffered an immense decline in numbers due to habitat loss, hunting and collection for the pet trade, and is at risk from extinction within the century if further conservation action is not taken.
The 38-year-old Thai man was arrested as he attempted to collect the suitcases from the baggage carousel. However, the bags were registered to a Malagasy woman who was also arrested on site. The same man was arrested earlier in the year on a similar smuggling charge. Both felons are to face charges in Thailand.
“We encourage the authorities to throw the book at these two. Making an example of them will hopefully serve as a deterrent for other smugglers,” said Shepherd.
The seizure was made hours after 300 Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and 10 black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) were found in abandoned luggage at the same airport. Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, Indian star tortoises are protected within their range (India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), from which commercial export has been banned due to the high demand for this species in the pet trade. Black pond turtles are listed on CITES Appendix I.
Thailand seized over 4,300 tortoises and freshwater turtles between 2010 and 2012, and half of these were Indian star tortoises. The Conference of the Parties meeting saw a decision by delegates from Thailand and Madagascar to cooperate in an attempt to control wildlife smuggling between the two countries.
“We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals,” Shepherd concluded.
The seized animals are currently being held in the Bang Pra Breeding Centre, a government rescue centre in Chonburi, Thailand. It is hoped that they will soon be able to be returned to Madagascar, where conditions and climate are more suitable for their survival.
Read more on this story at The Guardian – Over 10% of a single tortoise species’ population found in smuggler’s bag and TRAFFIC – Largest seizure of Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoises made in Thailand.
Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author