Thai Customs seizes over 1,000 turtles at Bangkok airport

5Thailand’s campaign to protect wildlife and natural resources scored two victories last week when Customs officials at Bangkok International Airport seized over 1,000 rare and endangered turtles that had been smuggled out of Pakistan. Meanwhile, a new elite team of rangers arrested a man for poaching valuable Siamese rosewood from a national park on their very first patrol.
Customs officials at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok arrested a 25-year old Pakistani man who was on suspicion of wildlife trafficking after inspections found four suitcases containing black pond turtles, also known as Indian spotted turtles, and which are native to South Asia. International trade in such turtles is illegal.

But the suitcases full of turtles and tortoises were not the only illegal shipments found during the week. The discovery came after inspectors found 423 protected tortoises and 52 black pond turtles in unclaimed bags on a luggage carousal after arriving on a flight from Bangladesh.A few days later, customs officials found 80 more protected turtles in luggage also from Bangladesh.

“It does seem that the number of turtles and tortoises coming out of South Asia is skyrocketing, especially with regards to the black pond turtle,” said Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC, a wildlife protection group. “Few, if any, significant traders or kingpins in the tortoise and turtle racket have been penalized,” he told AFP.

In March of this year, Thailand hosted the annual global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora. At the meeting, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pledged that Thailand would step up enforcement against wildlife trafficking. Since then, the number of seizures and arrests has increased and laws have been tightened. At CITES, several species were added to the protection lists. One of them was Siamese Rosewood, a valuable hardwood found in Thailand and which is becoming increasingly rare.

Last week, a newly formed and trained elite unit of wildlife protection rangers arrested a rosewood poacher from Cambodia on their very first patrol in Pangsida National Park in Sa Kaew province near the border with Cambodia. The rangers, known as the Tiger Kings, seized several rosewood logs, but six other poachers escaped into the forest.

Operations against poachers are extremely dangerous because they are usually well armed with AK-47 assault rifles and other weapons. Poachers have murdered about 50 Thai park rangers during the past four years.

The Tiger Kings were trained by Freeland, an anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization based in Thailand and funded in part by the United States government. The Tiger Kings are a pilot unit meant to demonstrate what a highly trained, specialized and cohesive company of rangers can achieve in terms of stopping poachers and destruction. Freeland intends to replicate the program and the unit in other countries in Asia and Africa.



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