New Straits Times
December 2, 2005

In the spotlight over illegal trade

By Elizabeth John

Recent arrests by Indian authorities have thrown a rather unflattering spotlight on an Indian sensation in Malaysia and this country?s role in its popularity worldwide. Since wildlife department officers arrested 25-year-old R. Narayanan, widely known as the kingpin of the Indian Star Tortoise smuggling racket, they have discovered that most of the illegally captured tortoises were destined for Malaysia or were to be transported through this country.

Indian Star Tortoises are among the most popular exotic pets in Malaysia and among the most commonly available.

India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, where these beautiful tortoises are found, have banned their capture and sale.

Initially held by Customs officials on suspicion of drug smuggling in late November, Narayanan was later handed over to the Wildlife Department when his connection to the tortoises was revealed.

Investigators discovered that Narayanan had purchased 1,660 tortoises from Andhra Pradesh, which he then tried to smuggle into Malaysia in suitcases.

In May, a Malaysian national was arrested trying to smuggle 200 tortoises, hidden in three pieces of luggage, from Kuala Lumpur to Kaohsiung in Taiwan. In September, a seizure of 350 tortoises was made at Chennai?s Anna International Terminal from a Malaysian national.

He was apprehended while trying to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur with the tortoises hidden in his checked-in luggage.

Indian newspaper reports quote Wildlife authorities as saying that from Malaysia, the tortoises would go to different destinations including Singapore and the United States.

In 2004, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia released the report Demand Driven: The Trade of Indian Star Tortoises, Geochelone elegans in PeninsularMalaysia, which highlighted Malaysia as a major hub in the international illegal trade of this species.

The study?s survey of 31 pet stores in Kuala Lumpur found more than three quarters sold them. The reptiles are often dehydrated, bound with tape and stuffed into stockings to limit movement and prevent detection. Many do not survive the journey.

International organisations that champion the cause of these tortoises, also say that 95 per cent of those in pet stores die within six months of being sold, because their owners fail to provide an adequate diet or keep them in unsuitable conditions.

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