Demand for wildlife parts is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. In China, where a rising middle class flaunts wealth by displaying ivory at home, traders call elephant tusks "white gold". But elephants, tigers, rhinos and other "charismatic megafauna" are not the only animals in trouble.
On March 15th, days after conservationists discussed clamping down on wildlife smuggling at a recent CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) conference in Thailand, Thai authorities seized over 300 live tortoises at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. They arrested a Thai man and Malagasy woman who attempted to claim a suitcase from Madagascar. In it, authorities discovered 54 ploughshare and 21 radiated tortoises (both species are "critically endangered" under CITES). The same day, CITES authorities found another batch of tortoises in an unclaimed suitcase at the airport’s carousel.
In discovering 54 ploughshares, authorities made the largest recorded seizure of a rapidly declining species. Experts estimate that as few as 400 individuals remain in the wild. Eric Goode, who heads the Turtle Conservancy, says the turtles do not appear to have been bred in captivity. This means that the smugglers removed 14% of the wild population from Madagascar. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, in the first three months of 2013 authorities in Madagascar and Thailand confiscated more than 1,000 ploughshare and radiated tortoises.
In Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market (and other markets across South East Asia, both offline and online), vendors sell exotic critters as pets. Some dealers openly advertise that the specimens had been smuggled into the country. Other buyers are unaware that their new mascots were illegally removed from the wild. TRAFFIC, an advocacy group, warns that sellers sometimes misrepresent an animal’s origin, for instance by lying to customers that the animals were legally bred in captivity. To avoid unwittingly supporting criminal activity, TRAFFIC recommends that buyers relay concerns to relevant government agencies. More....