The recent list of failed smuggling attempts of endangered and at risk animals along with their body parts became even longer Monday morning when customs officers in Malaysia seized 330 endangered tortoises at Kuala Lumpur airport.
The International Business Tribune (IBT) reported the news of Monday morning’s haul which marked the second animal trafficking case in the country within the same week.
Kuala Lumpur Airport Custom Deputy Director Abdul Wahid Sulong confirmed to reporters this morning that the boxes arrived on Sunday, May 14, on an Etihad Airways flight from Antananarivo Airport in Madagascar.
Thankfully, the tortoises were found alive inside of five packages with forged air bills that falsely declared them as “stones.”
The majority of the tortoises recovered were radiated tortoises which are indigenous to Madagascar. Often hailed as one of the most beautiful species of animals, IBT also reported that they are “rapidly nearing extinction due to rampant hunting for its meat and the illegal pet trade.”
Also uncovered in the crates were golden-domed ploughshare tortoises. Also native to Madagascar, this species has become the most endangered tortoise in the world because of poaching.
Both of the tortoise species are ranked as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list.
Elizabeth John, senior communications officer of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (Traffic), explained that the current tortoise heist followed on the heels of other smuggling attempts of animal products that originated in Africa, including rhino horn and pangolin scales.
“With the string of recent seizures of wildlife from Africa, Malaysian enforcement agencies are sending a strong warning to smugglers that they mean business,” she told AFP adding that “the routes used by traffickers in recent cases point to a need for greater scrutiny of airports in the Middle East.”
As also reported by the news outlet, days prior, a Malaysian national had been arrested at the same airport for trying to smuggle Angonokas, valued at $33,150 each, from Madagascar into Taiwan.
While rare tortoises are known to be sold as pets in Malaysia, which has become a major transit location in Asia for illegal trafficking of endangered species, it has yet to be determined if these tortoises were bound to be sold at local markets or were in transit to another country.
No arrests have been made as of yet but if convicted of the crime, the perpetrator would be ordered to pay a significant fine and potentially face up to three years in jail.