Published 23 February 2016

Large seizures of protected Pig-nosed Turtles in Indonesia highlight magnitude of illegal trade

Jakarta, Indonesia, 23rd February 2016—Close to 8,000 freshwater turtles destined for illegal trade were confiscated in back-to-back seizures in Indonesia over the past week, the vast majority of them protected Pig-nosed Turtles.

Pig-nosed Turtle: almost 7,000 were seized last week in Indonesia © Rob Bulmahn

On Sunday 21st, the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and Quarantine officials at Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta International Airport Quarantine discovered 3,737 Pig-nosed Turtles Carettochelys insculpta and 883 Snake-necked Turtles Macrochelodina rugosaconcealed in 38 boxes headed for Hong Kong.  

According to Indonesian media reports, officials’ suspicions were raised after they noticed a change in boxes containing 15,200 Clown Loach Fish Chromobotia macracanthus that they had inspected and cleared earlier. On closer inspection the turtles were discovered.    
The seized turtles have been placed in quarantine and will be returned to the wild as soon as possible. Only a few will be retained as evidence in the investigation, BKSDA told press.

Just days prior to the seizure in Jakarta, authorities foiled a separate attempt to smuggle 3,230 Pig-nosed Turtles out of the Mozes Kilangin Airport in Timika, Papua province.

Officials of Fish Quarantine, Quality Control and Fisheries Safety Agency (BKIPM) and security forces of Timika Mosek Kilangin Airport discovered the turtles packed into 190 plastic boxes that were concealed in four black suitcases. 

The suitcases had been brought through the old entrance of the airport which is not equipped with X-ray machines. The turtles were due to be sent to Jayapura, before heading to Jakarta. 

Previous seizures show that Timika and Jayapura Airports have been regularly used for the domestic smuggling of Pig-nosed Turtles to the larger Indonesian cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and Denpasar. From there, the turtles are then smuggled internationally, including to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and China.

Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, the Pig-nosed Turtle is a large freshwater turtle restricted to the Northern Territories of Australia and the southern lowlands of New Guinea. Despite being granted legal protection in Indonesia and listed in Appendix II of CITES, high international demand for the Pig-nosed Turtle in the exotic pet trade, food market and for traditional medicine has intensified harvesting of this species in Papua. 

The recent seizures in Jakarta and Timika highlight Indonesia’s continued role as a smuggling hub for turtles despite increased law enforcement efforts. 

“TRAFFIC commends the authorities for their vigilance and the successful seizures. Unfortunately, perpetrators don’t seem to be deterred by the threat of arrest and prosecution. They are still willing to take the risk,’’ said Chris R. Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director in South-East Asia.  

‘’TRAFFIC’s monitoring of the trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles in Southeast Asia over the past decade has shown a persistent and unsustainable illegal trade exists in the region. Many species will begin to disappear if the illegal trade is not abated.’’  

In 2015 alone, 8,970 Pig-nosed Turtles were seized during four different operations, three of which occurred in Indonesia and one in Thailand. The magnitude of the Pig-nosed trade in Indonesia was highlighted by TRAFFIC in 2014 when a study of the trade revealed that over a 10 year period from 2003 to 2012 a total of 81,689 individual turtles had been seized in 32 separate incidences.