By Rhishja Cota-Larson
An Indian national was arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport after Thai authorities found 890 Indian star tortoises stuffed inside pillowcases and a suitcase.
Tourist Police and Royal Thai Customs officers acted on a tip off and arrested the suspect, who had smuggled the baby tortoises into the country on a Thai Airways flight from Calcutta to Bangkok.
The suspect is expected to face charges under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, Customs Act and the Animals Epidemics Act. Dr William Schaedla, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s Regional Director, recommends publicizing the outcome.
TRAFFIC also wants to see authorities publicize the outcome of the prosecution in this case. Actual information on what happens to smugglers in the region is sparse. People must know that there is a heavy price to pay for trafficking animals if we are ultimately to win the battle against wildlife crime.
Although the Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a protected species across its range countries of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the illegal trade in this reptile is rampant, due to its popularity as an exotic pet. For example, over 100 Indian star tortoises were seen “openly for sale” at Bangkok’s Chatuchak market just a few days prior to the airport incident.
The Times of India reported that 192 Indian star tortoises were released over the weekend into Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary. The tortoises were returned to their homeland last year after being rescued from a wildlife trafficker in Malaysia.