Published 8 November 2013

Royal Thai Customs intercept three attempts to smuggle tortoise and freshwater turtle in less than a week

Bangkok, Thailand, 8th November, 2013—Thailand continues to be a major hub for the illegal trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles – but Royal Thai Customs are taking action.  This week alone, three smuggling attempts have been thwarted, all arriving at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport.


At 7:00am this morning, Thai Royal Customs arrested a Pakistani national on a flight from Lahore, with four suitcases containing 470 Black Pond Turtles Geoclemys hamiltonii, a species completely protected in its native Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal.  The turtles, varied in size from 6cm to 25cm long, are increasingly at risk from the pet trade in Southeast and East Asia.  They are becoming increasingly rare in the wild. 

The species is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which therefore makes any international commercial trade illegal.

In an earlier seizure on Monday (November 3rd), Royal Thai Customs officials at the same airport recovered 72 Black Pond Turtles and eight other turtles, including six Crowned River Turtles Hardella thurjii, one Three-keeled Land Tortoise Melanochelys tricarinata and one Indian Eyed Turtle Morenia petersi, from two bags that were emitting a rotting smell.  The bags had also arrived on a flight from Bangladesh.

Just two days later, Royal Thai Customs officials discovered another load of tortoises and freshwater turtles, in two uncollected suitcases at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport, including the heavily trafficked Indian Star Tortoise Geochelone elegans.

The two bags on a flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh to Bangkok, aroused the suspicion of officers because they were far heavier than normal.  Officials waited several hours for the bags to be collected before deciding to confiscate and scan them.    X-rays and subsequent checks revealed 423 Indian Star Tortoises and 52 Black Pond Turtles.  The animals have been placed in the care of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.


The Bangkok airport is no stranger to smugglers carrying tortoises and turtles in their luggage from South Asia.  More than 2,700 Indian Star Tortoises have been seized since June 2010; the most recent, prior to this week’s seizures, took place a day after the closure of the CITES 16th Conference of the Parties, held in Bangkok in March this year, when Customs officials found 300 Indian Star Tortoises and 10 Black Pond Turtles in an unclaimed bag at the airport.

In the last four years alone, Thai authorities have seized more than 5,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles, around half of which were Indian Star Tortoises.  Authorities in India have also intercepted numerous smuggling attempts of Indian Star Tortoises to Thailand, further illustrating the importance of significant Thailand’s role in the trade.

The Indian Star Tortoise is heavily traded as an exotic pet despite being legally protected in range countries—India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  All three countries have banned commercial export of the species under national legislation, making shipments from these countries illegal anywhere in the world.

All the animals seized in these three events have been placed in the care of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. 

“The Royal Thai Customs are to be congratulated for intercepting these shipments of tortoises and freshwater turtles.” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“Given the volumes involved, the frequency of these illegal shipments, and the open availability of such species in Bangkok’s markets, it is clear that Thailand remains a globally significant trade hub for these animals.  While intercepting shipments and arresting couriers is a must, TRAFFIC strongly encourages the authorities in Thailand to investigate further and to go after the kingpins behind the trade.  Putting these key players behind bars is essential to shutting down the illegal trade in Thailand.”