Ploughshare tortoises, native to Madagascar, are one of the most critically endangered species on the planet. And, while countless conservation groups are actively working to save them, the arrest of a wildlife smuggler in Thailand is proving just how easily a handful of criminals could bring about their demise.
Authorities say they recently arrested a 38-year-old Thai man at an airport in Bankok attempting to collect a bag containing 54 ploughshare tortoises smuggled in from Madagascar. Although that may seem less severe than some larger scale environmental crimes, this haul of tortoises actually accounts for nearly 13 percent of the estimated 400 or so individuals thought to still be in existence in the wild.
According to the watchdog organization TRAFFIC, the luggage was registered to a woman arriving from Madagascar who was also arrested. It is believed that the tortoises were bound for sale as exotic pets.
“TRAFFIC congratulates the Thai authorities for these very significant seizures,” says the group's Deputy Director, Chris R. Shepherd.
“The criminals behind this shipment of Ploughshare Tortoises have effectively stolen over 10% of the estimated population in the wild. They should not be allowed to get away with it. They should face the full force of the law.”
Thailand has become a major hub for illegal wildlife traders, though stepped-up enforcement has led to the seizure of more than 4300 tortoises and freshwater turtles in the last three years. Convicted smugglers in Thailand face four year prison sentences and fines of around $1,300.