Malaysia to return nearly 400 smuggled rare tortoises
The Associated Press
Monday, June 25, 2007
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia will return nearly 400 smuggled rare tortoises to their native India this week, an official said Monday, in a case that highlights concerns about illegal trade in exotic animals.
The Indian Star tortoises have been in Malaysia since late April after authorities at Kuala Lumpur International Airport discovered them in the luggage of an Indian citizen, who has since been deported to his home country, said Haidar Khan, a senior official in Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
There were 404 tortoises in the luggage, but only 385 survived their ordeal, Haidar said.
The tortoises, indigenous to South Asia, are listed by international conservation body CITES as at risk of becoming endangered unless trade is strictly regulated. They are prized by collectors for the distinctive star patterns on their shells.
However, they are not formally protected under Malaysia's environmental laws, so the man who smuggled the tortoises could not be prosecuted in Malaysia, Haidar said. He was believed to have been planning to supply them to Malaysian pet stores.
This was the third foiled smuggling attempt of Indian star tortoises in recent years, Haidar said. More than 1,000 such tortoises were seized in 2003 and 2005, and all were returned to India.
Loretta Ann Soosayraj, a Malaysian wildlife conservation activist, said Malaysia should establish laws to protect freshwater tortoises, which are popular in pet stores.
An Indian star tortoise usually sells for 50 ringgit (US$14; ?10) in Malaysia.
Haidar said new laws giving wildlife protection officials more powers are currently being planned.
He said there had been another recent case of tortoise smuggling involving 76 leopard tortoises which were found June 12 in two parcels sent by air mail from Tanzania.
"They were strapped as well as cramped inside the box. It's torture," he said, adding the parcels were labeled as containing clay pots.
Two of the tortoises died, but Malaysia would try to send the surviving ones back to Tanzania, Haidar said.