By Rhishja Cota-Larson
After two “unusually heavy” suitcases remained unclaimed on a carousel at Suvarnabhumi Airport, customs officials x-rayed the bags and discovered 423 baby Indian star tortoises (not radiated tortoises, as reported earlier).
Please note, I’ve updated this post, thanks to new information received from TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. The baby tortoises were actually Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans). This species is listed under CITES Appendix II, which allows for controlled trade only with appropriate permits.
The luggage arrived on Thai Airways flight TG 322 from Dhaka, Bangladesh, according to Thailand’s matichonOnline. No suspects were arrested. Besides the Indian star tortoises, the bags also contained 52 black pond turtles, Geoclemys hamiltonii, classified as Vulnerable and listed under CITES Appendix I, which prohibits international commercial trade.
In September 2012, 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.
Tortoises and freshwater tortoises are under enormous threat because of trafficking for both consumption and the exotic pet trade. One such species is the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), which is native to Madagascar, classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and listed under CITES Appendix I. A joint media release issued in May 2013 by Wildlife Conservation Society, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Turtle Survival Alliance, Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, Turtle Conservancy, Conservation International, and World Wildlife Fund warned that the trafficking of Madagascar’s Critically Endangered radiated and ploughshare tortoises had “reached epidemic proportions”. More....