Turtle, tortoise trouble
The smuggling of our wildlife friends will soon kill them off.
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.