Two tortoise smugglers were arrested at Bangkok, Thailand’s large international airport earlier in the month, sparking outrage that they had removed over 10 percent of Madagascar’s critically endangered species, the ploughshare tortoise, from its wild home. Of perhaps 400 tortoises remaining, the 25-year-old Malagasy woman from Madagascar and her 38-year-old Thai partner had taken 54.
A Thai customs director, Paisarn Cheunjit, said that both of the smugglers were arrested at a customs checkpoint. Officers found 75 live tortoises in the woman’s bags and an additional 294 in an unclaimed bag on the luggage carousel.
He added that the Thai man was out on bail as a result of a 2012 arrest on a previous wildlife-trafficking charge.
TRAFFIC, an international group that fights the smuggling of wildlife, said that both the 54 ploughshare tortoises and the 21 radiated tortoises found in the luggage are critically endangered species on the brink of extinction. The ploughshare tortoise is considered the rarest tortoise in the world.
The remaining tortoises were 300 Indian star tortoises and 10 black pond turtles. The Indian star tortoise is illegal to export from anywhere it naturally occurs, but Thai authorities have seized over 2,000 Indian star turtles in three years just from the Bangkok international airport alone.
The value of the tortoises rescued alive in this latest report was estimated to be around 600,000 baht, which is approximately $20,500. It doesn’t seem like much. It appears that for less than $200,000, you could wipe out the entire species.
Fortunately, the Thai government seems to have had enough of being a notorious shipping center for international wildlife smugglers. Earlier this month, the prime minister opened the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference (CITES) by pledging to end trading in ivory in Thailand.
A few days ago, the Thai navy arrested two smugglers attempting to load a boat with 104 rare scaly anteaters.
The tortoises are being held at a waterfowl breeding reserve in Thailand until they can be returned safely to Madagascar.
We know that ploughshare tortoises can be successfully reintroduced if smugglers will just stop stealing them. Check out this encouraging video about re-introducing the ploughshare tortoises into Madagascar posted by UK’s Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust:
The recent spate of arrests could be a sign that Thailand is sick and tired of wildlife thieves like the tortoise smugglers.
[radiated tortoise photo Olivier Lejade via Wikipedia Commons]