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February 23, 2010

Critically endangered tortoises seized in Bangkok en route to Manila



(Bangkok, 18 February 2010) On 17 February 2010, the Airport Authorities (AOT), Immigration Police and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation of Thailand arrested a Thai national carrying 58 live radiated tortoises (geochelone radiate) and 18 Chinese or Asian water dragons (physignathus cocincinos) including a deceased one in a suitcase at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.  Airport Authorities observed live animals inside the suitcase and stopped the suspect for further luggage inspection detecting several dozen of endangered radiated tortoises and other surprising guests. These tortoises are endemic to Madagascar, were transited in Myanmar and intended to board a Thai Airways flight (TG) en route to Manila, Philippines.

Their estimated black market value in Thailand is at around THB10, 000 - THB 20,000 (US$ 300-600) per tortoise, but they can sell for much more in the US and Europe.  This species of tortoise is categorized as critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and listed as Appendix I under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prohibiting international trade. The Water Dragons though are not categorized and endemic to Southeast Asia, but their real origin is yet unknown.

The detection of these two species in one shipment yet deserves further close investigation on source, itinerary and their transit encounter in one suitcase at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok by the Royal Thai Police and respective authorities. The contraband was sent to the Wildlife Rescue Center at the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation before corresponding with the countries of origin on the animals? return as stated by CITES regulations.
Dr Chumphon Sukkaseam, Senior Officer of the Program Coordination Unit of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) applauds the Thai government authorities involved in intercepting this shipment. ?This is a good sign that authorities are not complacent of the situation and that they are responding to the airport and investigation trainings we have provided them on wildlife law enforcement and is yielding good results."