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Wednesday
Jul272011

Malagasy Frontier Police seize Indonesia-bound shipment of ‘world’s rarest’ tortoises

An estimated 440 to 770 Ploughshare Tortoises exist in the wild, yet a staggering 26 were seized earlier this week in Madagascar, bound for Indonesia. Click image to enlarge © Chris R SHepherd / TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Antananarivo, Madagascar, 27th July 2011—Authorities in Madagascar on Monday arrested two men and seized close to 200 of some of the world’s rarest tortoises that they were trying to smuggle out of Antananarivo’s Ivato Airport to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Frontier Police found 26 Ploughshare Tortoises Astrochelys yniphora, 169 Radiated Tortoises Astrochelys radiata and one Spider Tortoise Pyxis arachnoides in a box and three large bags that were transported directly to the tarmac, circumventing security scanners, according to local media reports.

Upon scanning the bags, authorities discovered the tortoises hidden inside and proceeded to arrest two men, one of whom had already boarded the flight. The two arrested were a Malagasy and an Indian national.

Local media have quoted Brunel Razafintsiandraofa, Chief of Border Police, as saying that the smuggler’s final destination was Indonesia, via Nairobi and Dubai. He also told press that the principal destination of wildlife trafficked from Madagascar was to South-East Asia.

The shipment includes a stunning number of Ploughshare Tortoises, of which there are only a few hundred left in the wild, making it one of the world’s rarest tortoise species.

All three tortoise species seized are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered—considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild—and fully protected by law in Madagascar. All three occur naturally only in Madagascar.

Their international commercial trade is also banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), yet these species frequently turn up in seizures and are seen for sale in markets of South-East Asia.

This June, TRAFFIC released the results of its investigations in Thailand, which found over a hundred Radiated Tortoises, dozens of Spider Tortoises, and three Ploughshare Tortoises for sale in markets and online.

In February this year, authorities in Bangkok arrested an Indonesian national with seven Radiated and one Ploughshare Tortoise in his bags at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

In August 2010, TRAFFIC also observed these species for sale at an expo in Jakarta. Several large-scale seizures of these tortoises were also made in Malaysia and Thailand in 2010. Most were found stuffed and hidden in luggage smuggled through airports.

A WWF survey published last year showed that ten or more zebu carts filled with around 100 tortoises each are leaving the Mahafaly Plateau in south Madagascar every week, and pointed to ongoing political instability as the driver for the large jump in illegal collection of Spider Tortoises and Radiated Tortoises.

“Those involved in apprehending these criminals in Ivato are to be congratulated,” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“Responsibility does not lie with Madagascar alone, but also with importing countries. The authorities in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia should take firm and immediate action against those trading in these species and put an end to this illicit trade.”

Press reports say the turtles were given over to the Water and Forest Services.

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