Rare tortoises and drugs found in abandoned luggage



Posted on 15 June 2010  | 
Kuala Lumpur—Enforcement agencies discovered 300 tortoises from Madagascar bound and packed in two suitcases that also contained drugs at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last week.

The bags contained 285 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata, 14 Spider Tortoises Pyxis arachnoides and a single Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora, one of the rarest tortoise species in the world.

The tortoise- and drug-filled bags had come in on 1 June on an Air Mauritius flight and were discovered by Customs officers at the airport.

The tortoises, all still alive, have been handed over to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) which is making arrangements for their return to Madagascar, news reports said.

Malagasy reptiles are widely traded globally. With few successful captive propagation projects whose combined reported output cannot account for the volume of individuals in trade, it is assumed the vast majority of these animals are sourced illegally from the wild.

All three tortoise species are listed in Appendix I of CITES and the Ploughshare Tortoise is listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN. The population of the species in the wild is estimated at 100 to 400 individuals in a range of only 1,500 square kilometres.

“TRAFFIC commends the diligence of the authorities involved in this case but is concerned that the culprit in this heinous crime has apparently escaped without penalty”, said TRAFFIC’s regional director in South-east Asia, Dr William Schaedla.

“We urge both Perhilitan and the Customs Department to investigate further.”

Perhilitan also arrested four people and seized a menagerie of wildlife, and wildlife parts, in a series of raids across the country over the past month.
The haul included two Southern Pied Hornbills, pythons and cobras, python gall bladders, several types of wildlife meat, and the head and skin of a Serow.


Article originally appeared on TRAFFIC. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. It is governed by the TRAFFIC Committee, a steering group composed of members of TRAFFIC's partner organizations, WWF and IUCN. A central aim of TRAFFIC's activities is to contribute to the wildlife trade-related priorities of these partners.


CITES Appendix I includes all species threatened with extinction. Their trade is prohibited. Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction but their trade must be regulated to avoid overexploitation.

This is the first major find of illegally exported Malagasy tortoises abroad this year. In the past, illegal exports have been discovered in Madagascar as well as abroad, especially in Southeast Asia where these animals are often sold to other countries.

Tortoise traffic is an ongoing problem in Madagascar. In 2008, 269 radiated tortoises were found at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand. The radiated tortoise is the most common species in this specialized pet market. Two years earlier, in 2006, a Malagasy citizen was arrested at Bangkok airport for trafficking radiated tortoises. In 2005, three soldiers smuggled 180 radiated tortoises to Reunion. But not only tortoises are hunted for traffic. Hundreds of amphibians and chameleons are often found in luggage at Ivato Airport in Antananarivo. Be it tortoise traffic or rosewood exploitation: Madagascar's biodiversity is being plundered and stringent measures have to be taken.

 
Radiated tortoise having had a feast on cactus fruit
© WWF / Dominic Tilley Enlarge
Radiated tortoise with 3000 year old baobab in Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, Madagascar
© WWF MWIOPO / Martina Lippuner Enlarge

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