The Associated Press
BANGKOK, Thailand Thai customs officials have arrested a Madagascar citizen who allegedly smuggled endangered tortoises into Thailand, a wildlife conservation group said Monday.
The man was arrested on Sunday after customs officials at Bangkok's airport inspected his baggage and found 15 radiated tortoises, which are on the international endangered list of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the environmental group WildAid said.
It said Thai authorities did not reveal the man's identity because they are continuing their investigation into a possible smuggling ring.
The man was charged with violating customs and wildlife laws and released on bail, but was not allowed to leave the country pending trial, it said.
Officials from the Investigation and Suppression Bureau of the Department of Customs could not immediately be reached for comment.
Under customs law, a convicted smuggler faces a fine up to 10 times the value of the confiscated items. Authorities did not disclose the value of the tortoises. Under Thai wildlife laws, he could face up to four years in prison or a fine of US$1,000 (?780).
Thai authorities had started investigating possible Madagascar smugglers after receiving a tip earlier this year from the Southeast Asia regional wildlife enforcement task force, an intergovernmental and interagency network.
WildAid, which works to stop illegal wildlife trade, said Southeast Asia is the world's third biggest black market for illegal wildlife because of its rich biodiversity, extensive transportation links and trade routes, and high local and international demand for its species.
Radiated tortoises, which have high-domed shells marked with yellow radiating lines, and other reptiles from Madagascar are sold illegally in pet markets in Southeast Asia, including in Thailand, it said.
CITES is an international agreement to ensure that trade of wild flora and fauna does not threaten their survival.
Submitted by Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC