On March 15, Thai authorities arrested a man attempting to claim a bag full of 54 ploughshare and 21 radiated tortoises at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Ploughshare tortoises are listed as "Critically Endangered" and, with only 400 left in the wild, the individuals in the smuggler’s luggage accounted for about 13 percent of the total population. Radiated tortoises are also critically endangered and both species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The tortoises are popular targets for criminals who sell them in the black-market pet trade. Combined with habitat loss and hunting, these factors have decimated the species’ populations.
The man who tried to pick up the bags, O. Visarnkol, 38, was already on bail for smuggling protected species and was arrested on site. Authorities also arrested the Malagasy woman to whom the bag was registered: 25-year-old Clara Rahantamalala.
"We encourage the authorities to throw the book at these two,” Chris Shepherd, deputy director of TRAFFIC in South-East Asia, told mongabay.com. “Making an example of them will hopefully serve as a deterrent for other smugglers. Releasing people on bail does not seem to be part of an effective strategy to reduce the smuggling and illegal trade."
The turtles were still alive when rescued and were placed in the Bang Pra Breeding Center in Chonburi—a rescue center. Shepherd said he hopes they will be returned to Madagascar as soon as possible. Unaccustomed to climate and conditions in Thailand, there is a good chance the turtles could die if they remain in the country too long. Because the population size in Madagascar is already so small, every individual tortoise is critical to the survival of the species.
Many scientists believe that, without international conservation work, these species could disappear by mid-century. Conservation progress is being made on the ground in Madagascar, but stopping smugglers will require worldwide cooperation.