New law backs up Malaysian customs efforts to stop endangered tortoise smugglers
With Malaysia’s International Trade in Endangered Species Act coming into effect this month, the two Malagasy suspects could be sentenced to a maximum seven years in jail and fined up to MYR 1 million ($310,000 USD).
The women filled their bags with 369 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and five ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora). Both of these species are unique to Madascar and listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list as well as on the Appendix I of CITES. Also hidden in their luggage were 47 tomato frogs (Dyscophus antongilii) and several chameleons.
"Malaysia's enforcement officers are to be congratulated on their crackdown on wildlife crime," said James Compton, Director of TRAFFIC’s Asia-Pacific Programme.
This is the second case in just over a month involving the smuggling of these rare tortoises into Malaysia.
In early June, Customs officers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, discovered 285 radiated tortoises, 14 spider tortoises and a ploughshare tortoise in two unclaimed suitcases that also contained a stash of drugs. However, no arrests were made in that incident.
"This is exactly the kind of action that is needed to protect Madagascar's rich and unique biodiversity from the predations of unscrupulous traders", says Dr Colman O’Criodain, Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst of WWF International. "Furthermore, the fact that drugs were also found in the earlier seizure proves, yet again, that wherever wildlife crime is committed other organized crime will also flourish."
The reptiles and amphibians seized in both cases have been handed over to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).
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.
These cases confirm links between criminal elements in Southeast Asia and Madagascar. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia urges enforcement agencies within the ASEAN-WEN to collaborate in shutting these syndicates down, especially in international airports, as these are truly the hubs of the trade.
Investigations to find the masterminds behind the trade in Madagascar’s tortoises in Southeast Asia should be initiated. It is these people, and those that continue to buy these illegal animals that are driving them towards extinction.
The second seizure of Madagascar tortoises comes hot on the heels of several Perhilitan successes this month.