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1,500 live turtles found crammed into suitcases

14/02/2012 13:50:44

Seized at Indonesia's Mopah Airport

February 2012: Close to 1,500 live pig-nosed turtles have been seized at an airport in Indonesia.

PROTECTED: The pig-nosed turtle. Picture: Chris
Shepherd / TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

The 1,495 turtles were concealed inside two suitcases and discovered at Mopah Airport en route to Jakarta, the nation's capital and a major hub for illicit wildlife trade.

Valued as pets, and possibly consumed as meat in some countries, pig-nosed turtles are smuggled out of Indonesia by the thousands.

Kept as pets, eaten, or used in traditional medicine
Sources allege that shipments such as this one are common, with dealers in Jakarta buying the turtles from hunters and agents in Papua, then selling them on to dealers and retailers abroad. Many are destined for the pet markets of East Asia, to places such as Hong Kong, where demand for this species is rising. The turtles are often concealed in shipments of tropical aquarium fish.

There are also indications that many of the turtles are bound for the kitchen table, or to be used in traditional medicines.

Although pig-nosed turtles are totally protected in Indonesia, making collection for export illegal, the trade large scale persists.

Illegal reptile trade is rife in Indonesia
Close to 3,500 pig-nosed turtles were seized in February 2010 in Jakarta, while in October last year, more than 600 seized in Hong Kong were returned to Indonesia for reintroduction to the wild. Most, however, once removed from their native habitat, never make it back.

‘The authorities involved in intercepting this shipment are to be congratulated,' said Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

‘However, the fact that dealers continue to smuggle shipments of this size indicates a serious problem in Indonesia, where illegal reptile trade is rife.'

The Pig-nosed turtle is threatened by habitat degradation and by illegal and unsustainable harvest for local consumption and international trade. It is listed as Vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Many protected animals are openly for sale
Observations by TRAFFIC in December 2011 of three wildlife markets and a reptile expo in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, found a host of protected and endangered turtles and tortoises openly for sale, plus other protected species of reptiles, mammals and birds.

Among them were 19 green turtles and eight Malaysian giant turtles, both listed as Endangered by IUCN and Totally Protected in Indonesia.

A host of non-native species were also seen, including a single ploughshare tortoise and ten radiated tortoises, both critically endangered species endemic to Madagascar.

‘Illegal and unsustainable trade in turtles and other reptiles in Indonesia is a serious threat to the conservation of many species. Indonesia's enforcement agencies must take firm action against traders in Indonesia flouting the law,' said Shepherd.

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