Human couriers for tortoises

The Star
October 21, 2007

PETALING JAYA: Smugglers appear to be exploiting the legal loopholes in Malaysian wildlife law as human couriers boldly carry exotic tortoises through Customs, knowing that they can get away with it.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) uncovered two such cases at the KL International Airport last month, but could not prosecute one of the couriers who was detained with a bagful of the banned Indian star-tortoise.

This is because not all turtle and tortoise species are in the list of protected species under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972. The long-talked-about Wildlife Protection and Conservation Bill is not even on the list of bills to be tabled in the current Parliament session.

The department?s enforcement director, Misliah Mohd Basir, said the Indian national was apprehended with 255 heads of the endangered reptile in his luggage, but claimed that he was unaware of the content. 

He told my investigators that he had been given RM1,000 and some new clothing to bring this bag into Malaysia. However, since the tortoises are not under the PWA, we can?t charge him.  

Misliah, however, acknowledged that in view of this relatively new modus operandi by smugglers, Perhilitan would work closely with the Customs Department to improve enforcement strategy. 

?If we had let him off with the luggage at KLIA and followed him, we might have had a better chance of exposing the syndicate behind this.?  

The Indian star tortoise is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which allows trade, regulated by a permit system.  

But India has banned its export as the popularity of this tortoise as a pet is fuelling poaching, which threatens its survival in the wild. 

The second case involved a consignment found in a luggage on transit to Penang. It is unclear why the owner was not stopped in Penang.  

The transit luggage contained 37 heads of Radiated tortoise and two heads of Angonoka tortoises. Both species are found in the semi-arid region of Madagascar and are Cites Appendix I species (which does not allow trading). 

On the 76 Leopard tortoises (Appendix II) confiscated in June, Perhilitan is still discussing the repatriation process with the country of origin, Tanzania. The cost factor hindered repatriation, Misliah said.

So far, three repatriations of the Indian star tortoise have been carried out.  

In the meantime, all the animals are housed in the Malacca Zoo, Perhilitan?s official rescue centre. 

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/10/21/nation/19211556&sec=nation
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