More than 300 smuggled tortoises seized in Malaysia

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  • Customs officials at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport raided the cargo area of the airport on May 14 following a tip-off, and found the tortoises packed into five boxes labeled as stones.
  • The boxes reportedly arrived on an Etihad Airways flight from Antananarivo airport in Madagascar, and were registered with a fake business address in Malaysia.
  • No arrests have been made yet, but the case is being investigated under Section 135(1)(a) of the Customs Act 1967, officials say.
Malaysian customs officials have seized 330 tortoises that were smuggled into the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.The animals, which included 325 threatened Indian star tortoises as well as five critically endangered Ploughshare tortoises, were all found to be alive, Abdul Wahid Sulong, deputy director of the customs department, told the AFP. The tortoises are believed to be worth nearly $280,000.“It is a big haul. It could be for the local market or for re-export. We are investigating,” Sulong said in a statement.The customs officials raided the cargo area of the airport on May 14 following a tip-off, and found the tortoises packed into five boxes labeled as stones. The boxes reportedly arrived on an Etihad Airways flight from Antananarivo airport in Madagascar, and were registered with a fake business address in Salak Tinggi, Selangor in Malaysia.

“In this specific incident, an attempt to illegally transport tortoises was made as part of a shipment that originated from another carrier during transit at Abu Dhabi International Airport,” an Etihad Airways spokesperson told Gulf News. “Etihad Airways will cooperate with the concerned authorities and provide any information that may assist the investigation of the incident.”

No arrests have been made yet, Sulong said, but the case is being investigated under Section 135(1)(a) of the Customs Act 1967.  Those found guilty for illegally transporting the threatened animals to Malaysia can be imprisoned for up to three years, or can be fined a maximum of 20 times the value of the smuggled items, or both, according to New Straits Times.

The customs officials will hand the seized tortoises to the Wildlife Protection and National Parks Department, Sulong added.

More than 300 smuggled tortoises seized in Malaysia
Ploughshare Tortoise or Angonoka Tortoise

Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) is one of the most endangered tortoises in the world. Fewer than 100 individuals remain in the wild, all occurring within Baly Bay National Park in northwestern Madagascar. The tortoise’s striking gold and black domed shell has made it an attractive pet in the international market, and continued poaching of these animals for the illegal pet trade will likely wipe out the last few ploughshare tortoises in a few years, conservationists say.

The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans), found in India and Sri Lanka, is a prized pet too. It is currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and is the most frequently seized tortoise species, according to John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General. Between 2000 and 2015, over 300,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles have been confiscated, he said, including 34,000 Indian star tortoises.

“Many seizures of tortoises and freshwater turtles seem to involve small numbers of animals that are carried or kept as personal pets or souvenirs, but more significantly, a smaller number of seizures of large to very large shipments containing several hundreds or thousands of live specimens, suggests the involvement of well-organized criminal networks,” Scanlon said at the meeting of the CITES Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles Task Force in April.

More than 300 smuggled tortoises seized in Malaysia
The Indian star tortoise is the most frequently seized tortoise.
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