Tur­tle, tor­toise trou­ble

The smug­gling of our wildlife friends will soon kill them off.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Ecowatch - A ploughshare tor­toise. — TNS By ANDREW SIA star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE traf­fick­ing of fresh­wa­ter tur­tles and tor­toises to meet the per­sis­tent de­mand for ex­otic pets via SouthEast Asia has been a long­stand­ing prob­lem.

“The trade in the black pond tur­tles (Geo­clemys Hamil­tonii) is es­ca­lat­ing at such a quick pace,” says Dr Chris R. Shep­herd, re­gional di­rec­tor for Traf­fic (the wildlife trade mon­i­tor­ing net­work) in Asia in a state­ment.

“It’s push­ing this al­ready threatened species close to the brink of ex­tinc­tion. En­force­ment ef­forts and, im­por­tantly, suc­cess­ful con­vic­tions such as those in Malaysia are es­sen­tial to stem this prob­lem.”

Shep­herd is re­fer­ring to the case of Bakrudin Ali Ahamed Habeeb, a 35-year-old trader from Tamil Nadu, In­dia, who was sen­tenced by a Malaysian Ses­sions Court on May 9 to two years’ jail for smug­gling 20 black pond tur­tles in­side three suit­cases in a ho­tel room in Kuala Lumpur.

Traf­fic’s re­search shows that 1,960 black pond tur­tles were seized be­tween Jan­uary 2008 and March 2014. Yet seizures in 2016 alone ex­ceeded 1,000 an­i­mals.

On May 15, 330 ex­otic tor­toises from Mada­gas­car worth RM1.2mil were in­ter­cepted by the Royal Malaysian Cus­toms at the KL In­ter­na­tional Air­port (tinyurl.com/ star-smug­gle).

Act­ing on a tip-off, a Cus­toms team searched the air cargo ware­house and found boxes with suit­cases in­side.

There were 325 In­dian star tor­toises and five ploughshare tor­toises, wrapped in moist­ened pouches, in­side the suit­cases.

The il­le­gal cargo came from Mada­gas­car, and was sup­posed to be passed off as “stones”, ac­cord­ing to the air­way bill.

Ploughshare tor­toises can fetch RM17,300 each while the In­dian star species can sell for RM4,300 each. The tor­toises were most prob­a­bly des­tined for the ex­otic pet mar­ket.

“We hope this seizure sends a mes­sage to traf­fick­ers that we mean busi­ness and will not hes­i­tate to take le­gal ac­tion.

“We are also work­ing to en­sure the tur­tles get back to their county of ori­gin,” says Ab­dul Kadir Abu Hashim, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Penin­su­lar Malaysia De­part­ment of Wildlife and Na­tional Parks (Per­hili­tan).

Bakrudin’s ar­rest made head­lines in In­dia with me­dia re­port­ing that the seizure in Malaysia took place in col­lab­o­ra­tion with In­dia’s Wildlife Crime Con­trol Bureau (WCCB). The Bureau was also quoted as say­ing that Bakrudin was among a num­ber of on­line wildlife traders that were be­ing watched and sought un­der a spe­cial op­er­a­tion to crack­down on wildlife cy­ber­crime.

Last July, Per­hili­tan ar­rested four In­dian nationals with 1,011 In­dian star tor­toises (Geoch­e­lone el­e­gans), 23 In­dian roofed tur­tles (Pang­shura tecta) and 36 black pond tur­tles from two raids.

Sep­a­rately an­other rep­tile trader un­der WCCB’s watch was re­port­edly ar­rested at Bangkok’s Su­varn­ab­humi In­ter­na­tional Air­port on May 4 as he was at­tempt­ing to exit Thailand with leop­ard tor­toises (Stig­mochelys pardalis).

“The high fre­quency of traf­fick­ing re­ports backs calls for closer col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween en­force­ment agen­cies in South and South-East Asia and the ur­gent need for a sys­tem to en­sure the quick repa­tri­a­tion of seized tur­tles and tor­toises,” says Shep­herd.

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