Thailand: 13% of endangered tortoise species discovered in smuggler's bag at airport

Indian Star Tortoises. Photo: P.Tansom/TRAFFIC

Authorities in Thailand made two big seizures of attempted tortoise smuggling at an airport this week. Hundreds of threatened tortoises were discovered, and they are among the rarest in the world. Two smugglers were apprehended.

From TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network:

On Friday, authorities arrested a 38-year-old Thai man as he was attempting to collect a bag containing tortoises from Madagascar, from a luggage carousel, at the airport. The bag was registered to a 25-year-old woman who had flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi the same day.

Royal Thai Customs officers and their counterparts in the CITES management authority found 54 Ploughshare Tortoises Astrochelys yniphora and 21 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata, both of which are assessed as being Critically Endangered.

Ploughshare and Radiated Tortoises are endemic to Madagascar, totally protected in the country and are both listed in CITES Appendix I. The wild population of Ploughshare Tortoises, considered among the rarest species in the world, is estimated to be as few as 400 individuals, and is declining fast.

So, the smugglers were attempting to smuggle 13.5% of the entire world population of Ploughshare Tortoises.

Both the Thai man and the Malagasy woman were arrested, and the man had been arrested earlier in 2013 on another wildlife smuggling charge.

Photo: P.Tansom/TRAFFIC

The incident happened just after the conclusion of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in which delegates from Thailand and Madagascar "discussed plans to share intelligence and co-operate in other ways to curb the smuggling of wildlife from Madagascar to Thailand."

More at the TRAFFIC website.


  1. Look at how they were kept. The punishment, aside from life in prison, for this kind of thing should be for the smugglers to have their arms and legs taped to their sides and then to stuff them into the belly of a plane and send them somewhere foreign for their imprisonment.

    The tortoises are not the animals in this story.

    1. I know it’s a complicated chicken-and-egg issue, but eliminating demand would also eliminate supply.

      Of course one of the problems is that incidents like this, or just the fact that an animal is endangered, can make it even more desirable. From the source, the “Indian Star Tortoise is heavily traded as an exotic pet”.  As its numbers dwindle its price tag goes up, and potential suppliers have a bigger and bigger motive to capture and smuggle.

        1. That’s horrible. They remove their teeth to make pets out of them. I think anyone who wants to have a slow loris as a pet should have their teeth removed first, without anesthesia, so they get an idea of what it’s like. 

          1.  Don’t punish people just because of their wants. I want a slow loris so I could teach him to play Jenga. I’ll never follow through on that, but do I deserve to have my teeth pulled now? Sheesh.

          2. I have a cousin who is a vet in Miami and used to be a sort of foster parent for exotic animals confiscated by US Customs.  One time he had a slow loris.  He warned us not to get too close but my sister managed to get bit by the thing.  For such a tiny, cuddly-looking creature they pack a really mean bite.

            Obviously these things shouldn’t be kept as pets (the Spanish vulgarity spewing birds that often rotated through my cousin’s house were far more entertaining anyway). But if I was the kind of person who insisted on keeping a wild animal as a pet, it wouldn’t be hard to justify defanging the thing.

          3. There are a lot of animals that I think shouldn’t be kept as pets, although in some cases, with disappearing habitats, I guess it’s better than letting them go completely extinct.

            The Spanish vulgarity spewing birds reminded me of a parrot I once met at the zoo. His cage was just outside the reptile house. As I came out he said “Hello!” I stopped and tried to get him to say it again, but he shut up until a very elderly couple came out and then he started yelling “Oh shit! Oh shit!” 

    1. Yeah, I’m not at all keen on the death penalty, not even in this case.

      However, I do think that smuggling of endangered animals (as well as purchasing/possession) should be punishable with the extreme upper end of any sanctions available. I know smuggling isn’t a crime of violence (against other people – the animals might take a different view on that), it isn’t drugs, and it isn’t theft from an individual.

      But I think it is a worse kind of theft; it’s theft from every single person on the planet, and theft from every person yet to be born.

      I might never travel to a place where I can see a Ploughshare or Indian Star Tortoise in the wild, and I mightn’t ever see one in a zoo either. But with fuckers like this around it won’t matter where I, or my children, or my children’s children, travel because there won’t be any anywhere.

      Fuckers. Don’t kill them, but do impose serious sanctions on them. A long jail sentence, and no passport ever again. They’ve proven they can’t be trusted to travel, so don’t let them – or any other convicted smuggler, dealer, or purchaser – go anywhere ever again.

      1. Why not just smuggle the smugglers into a lion pit?

        You know, to show them what it’s like to be at the mercy of another species…

        The lions will get a tasty meal, an example will be set, and I don’t have to pay for some jackoff to suffer for the rest of his days.

  2. Oh! Madagascar, my favorite place on earth!

    Xeni, and everyone: the Durell Trust has set up a on-site protection and breeding program including the local (human) population in protecting this rarest of all tortoises. IUCN praises the program:

    Given the extreme rarity of the species, the initial goal was the establishment of a captive-breeding project. This was successfully achieved. In December 2004, the captive project had 224 captive-bred juveniles from 17 founder adults (10 males, 7 females). From the 1990s, work progressed to ecological research on the species in the wild, and developing conservation strategies with the surrounding local communities. The latter work formed the basis of community-led firebreaks and with the communities themselves proposing the creation of a park to safeguard the tortoise and the remaining forests.

    Ongoing monitoring of the species’ occurrence in the global pet trade is needed, along with effective enforcement and repatriation and/or safe, conservation-oriented maintenance of confiscated animals in appropriate facilities.

    I would not be surprised if the tortoises would be transferred to that breeding program, but I have no confirmation for this.

    However, the situation in Madagascar is (again) very difficult since the coup d’etat 2009. (And, at the moment, with a locust outbreak. FAO want’s to spray 1.5 million hectars of land for food
    security. Not sure if I like that…)

    My tipp: go visit, as long as something of the marvelous wildlife is left. It is an adventure. (And you can’t get much more away from the US.) And spread the word: there are no penguins. But then, there are also no dangerous animals. Despite the coup, it’s a peaceful place. And the most alien nature on this planet.

    Related good read for the trip: “Twig technology” in “Last Chance to See”, by DNA.

        1. Yeah, I know. And they’ve got awesome blood vessels and a full grown giraffe is capable of kicking a lion to death. I’m a giraffe enthusiast.

          I just forgot for a moment that they are born, not hatched. Happens to the best of us.

          1. Related: in Ruaha NP, Tanzania, there is a pack of lions which learned to avoid being kicked to death by Giraffes. They are, indeed, specialised on hunting them. Sorry.

            (But AFAIK, that’s the only pack in the world which mastered that, uhm, art.)

      1. But then I realized giraffe eggs aren’t real.

        Are you suggesting that giraffes reproduce asexually?

    1.  I scrolled down to write something very similar and saw you beat me to it.  What an asshole.

      1. You’re both assholes.

        And I’m an asshole for pointing it out.


        There.  Now let us never speak of this again.

  3. Seems like a good opportunity to establish a breeding population in Thailand.  Sales could more than support the effort. Perhaps profits could be spent on helping other endangered species.

  4. “Both the Thai man and the Malagasy woman were arrested, and the man had been arrested earlier in 2013 on another wildlife smuggling charge.”
     I guess it doesn’t carry a high bail or sentence. The thing that needs to be done with these animals is farming. Re-build the population and sell the additional ones to the pet trade. Everybody wins. We should know by now that making things illegal only creates a black market and horrible conditions for the animals. Prohibition has never worked and never will. If people want something badly enough, they will do whatever they can to get it, drugs, booze, animals, food whatever.

Comments are closed.