Global environmental challenges
Excess baggage in Bangkok: tortoises, lizards, spiders and snakes
What happens when the airport scanner shows shapes that look like live spiders, snakes, lizards and tortoises inside three big suitcases? Last week in Bangkok, it meant the detention of an Indonesian man and the seizure of 259 live creatures that were slotted into compartments in the black traveling bags.
The suspected smuggler reportedly went on a wildlife shopping spree in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, a hub for rare animal trade, according to conservation group TRAFFIC, which monitors illegal trafficking of species.
The suspect had stuffed 88 Indian Star Tortoises, 33 Elongated Tortoises, seven Radiated Tortoises, six Mata Mata Turtles, four Southeast Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle, three Aldabra Tortoises, one Pig-nosed Turtle and even one Ploughshare Tortoise—the world’s rarest tortoise, TRAFFIC said in a statement.
Alongside these, he packed 34 Ball Pythons, two Boa Constrictors, several Milk Snakes, Corn Snakes and King Snakes as well as a Hog-nosed Snake.
The suspect also had 19 Bearded Dragons, four Spiny-tailed Lizards, two Sunda Plated Lizards, six Argentine Horned Frogs.
He also managed to fit in 18 Baboon Spiders, each in its own plastic container, 22 Common Squirrels and one African Grey Parrot into his luggage.
The suspect, from Surabaya in Indonesia, told authorities he bought the animals at Chatuchak Market. He was set to board an Air Asia flight back to Indonesia when the animals were discovered, and he was taken into police custody.
TRAFFIC Regional Director William Schaedla praised Thailand’s Airport Authorities, but was outraged at the open availability of so many protected animals.
“It speaks well of a few alert enforcement authorities when such seizures happen. The Airport Authority is to be commended. However, one really has to question how Chatuchak Market, which is located just down the street from both Wildlife Protection and Nature Crime Police Offices, can continue these illegal mass sales,” Schaedla said in a statement. “Frankly, the situation is totally unacceptable in a country that claims to be effectively addressing illegal wildlife trade.”
Some vendors at the market have acknowledged selling animals that are obtained illegally and even offer advice on how to smuggle them out of the country, TRAFFIC officials said. This would be against Thailand’s laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES.
Photo credits: Ploughshare tortoise and suitcases where animals were discovered, TRAFFIC, Bangkok, Thailand, February 10, 2011