“Traffickers who were biding their time during the pandemic-related movement restrictions are back in force now, and this spate of smuggling attempts is reason for all Southeast Asia’s airports to be on alert,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “These seizures show that Thai authorities have anticipated the problem and been vigilant, and we encourage others in the region do the same.”
One of those recent seizures involved two Indian women, Nithya Raja and Zakia Sulthana Ebrahim, who were arrested at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok for attempting to smuggle 109 live animals out of the country.
X-ray inspection revealed 35 turtles, 50 lizards, 20 snakes, two Albino Malayan Porcupines, and two armadillos inside their two suitcases, according to Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
The women were on their way to the city of Chennai in India when they had to stop for luggage inspection. Authorities detained them both for violations of the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act of 2019, the Animal Disease Act of 2015, and the Customs Act of 2017.
Among the animals that wildlife traffickers seek the most are tortoises that are under the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Turtles and tortoises make up 70% of smuggled wildlife.
In two of the latest confiscations, 116 tortoises were found inside the luggage of a Ukrainian citizen who came from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, while another incident involved 81 Indian Star tortoises hidden in the suitcase of an Indian national who just arrived in Bangkok from Chennai.
Some traffickers likewise attempt to smuggle animals, including their parts or derivatives, via freight or mail. The Bangkok Suvanabhumi Airport Post Office chanced upon a suspicious parcel containing 34 live tortoises bound for the Philippines.
In the Philippines, the Bureau of Customs seized a shipment from Thailand that contained 40,000 animals, including exotic fish species.
“We’ve always known that movement restrictions and closed international borders would not stem wildlife smuggling forever. Clearly, it’s now time for Southeast Asia to reinvest in consistent and thorough monitoring at airports. It’s also time for countries like Thailand, where a huge number of the trade of wildlife as pets has taken place, to strictly regulate the industry that supplies the trade and revive campaigns to reduce consumer demand for this wildlife,” said Maethinee Phassaraudomsak, TRAFFIC Data and Research Officer in Southeast Asia.
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