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Friday
May012009

Customs find out what all the stink is about

Malaysian Customs officers got a surprise when they uncovered 160 King Cobras and more than 800 turtles hidden beneath a lorryload of garlic Click photo to enlarge © Mark Auliya / TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1 May—Customs officers have sniffed out an attempt to smuggle over 814 turtles and 160 king cobras hidden behind 2.3 tonnes of garlic to mask its smell.

The lorry carrying the protected wildlife was stopped at Padang Besar in the northern state of Perlis last week, just before it crossed the Malaysian border to Thailand.

When officers checked the vehicle, they were greeted by a strong stench that led them to check the back of the lorry, Perlis Customs Director Md Isa Endut told press.

Checks revealed the turtles and snakes packed in bags and plastic boxes behind the sacks of garlic worth RM19,000 (USD5,242).

Customs officers have detained the Thai lorry driver for failing to produce any documents for the export of wildlife, while the seized animals were handed over to the Perlis Wildlife and National Parks Department.

A Malaysian has also been detained to help in investigations.

Among the 814 turtles seized were 433 Asian Box Turtles and at least 122 Asian Brown Tortoises, said Perlis Senior Assistant Wildlife Officer Masnim Abdullah.

Asian Box Turtles, Brown Tortoises and King Cobras are all listed in Appendix II of CITES, the international Convention that regulates international trade in threatened species.

All the seized wildlife was believed to be destined for exotic meat restaurants in the region.

The wildlife department has since released the animals back into the jungles.

Though considered one of the commonest freshwater turtles in the region, Asian Box Turtles are a popular target for the illicit trade in pets, exotic meat and traditional medicines.

A TRAFFIC report released in January detailed the plight of the Malayan Box Turtle across this country despite a 2005 ban on its export.

Following the ban, exports of turtles for the pet trade in Japan, Europe and the USA seemed to cease but the report found widespread evidence of continued illegal export to Hong Kong, China and to a lesser extent, Singapore.

Based on surveys of the numbers traders were offering for sale, the report estimated that about 22,000 animals were illegally exported from Malaysia in a year.

The majority of turtles exported were adults, the report said, making it a particularly serious threat as the turtles have a slow reproductive cycle, mature late and produce a limited number of eggs.

A subsequent TRAFFIC report on the trade in Indonesia showed how unregulated trade had caused Southeast Asian Box Turtles to almost vanish from parts of Indonesia.

The number being traded was found to be between ten and a hundred times the official export quota with collectors in Riau and Sulawesi reporting huge falls in turtle numbers in the wild.

Registered pet traders also reported difficulties obtaining the turtles compared to a decade ago.

Both reports identified weak enforcement as a key problem and urged better co-operation between source countries like Malaysia and Indonesia and importing countries, to tackle the illegal trade.

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