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  TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and WildAid 26 Jun 06
Thai authorities seize illegal cargo of pangolins and freshwater turtles at Bangkok airport
Thanks to press release from Loretta Ann Soosayraj

Thai authorities confiscated an illegal shipment of 245 pangolins and 64 freshwater turtles today at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport. The cargo had arrived onboard a Thai Airways flight originating from Penang in Malaysia. No arrests were made, but two Thai nationals are currently being held for questioning.

After receiving a tip-off, Thai authorities discovered the concealed animals hidden in 60 crates falsely declared as Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) – an unprotected North American freshwater turtle. The illegal cargo of Malayan Pangolins (Manis javanica), 63 Black Marsh Turtles (Siebenrockiella crassicollis) and one Malayan Snail-Eating Turtle (Malayemys subtrijuga) was set to transit Bangkok en route to Lao PDR.

The turtle species are listed on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means trade in this species is legal only with a valid CITES permit.

The pangolins, however, although listed on CITES Appendix II, are subject to what is known as a ‘zero quota’ which means that all international trade is illegal. Pangolins are protected in Thailand and Malaysia, but remain widely used in traditional Asian medicine.

Thailand has become a major transit hub for pangolins smuggled from Malaysia and Indonesia en route to Lao PDR, Vietnam and China. In Thailand, trading in protected species carries a penalty of up to four years in prison and/or THB40,000.

This seizure represents a remarkable cooperative effort involving the Natural Resources and Environmental Crimes Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police; the CITES Management Authority of Thailand (both the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, and the Department of Fisheries); the Department of Customs; and the airport authority.

“This is an important and successful example of cooperation between different agencies and NGO’s,” said Dr Schwann Tunhikorn, Deputy Director of Thailand’s National Parks Wildlife and Plants Department. “This type of cooperation will improve our efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade and it is exactly the spirit of ASEAN-WEN.”

ASEAN-WEN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Law Enforcement Network) is a landmark initiative by the countries of Southeast Asia. It is designed to promote inter-agency and international cooperation to combat the illegal wildlife trade. The network is targeting wildlife crime syndicates by promoting intelligence sharing and cross-border operations.

As part of the network, Thai Police, Customs and environmental officials have joined hands to boost coordination in investigating and preventing nature crimes. “The co-operation received by the police in the case was very impressive – we could not have done this alone,” said Lt. Colonel Tanayod Kengkasikit from the Royal Thai Police. “This shows not only that the Police is serious about wildlife crime but that the assistance of all related law enforcement agencies is necessary to solve the problem.”

Southeast Asia is a global hotspot for the illegal wildlife trade – the world’s third biggest black market – because of a number of factors, including the region’s rich biodiversity, extensive transport links and trade routes, high local demand, and low public awareness of conservation.

“The Thai authorities deserve a lot of credit for taking such swift and decisive action,” said James Compton, Regional Director of conservation group TRAFFIC. “It reflects the stronger commitment by Thailand to stop the illegal wildlife trade in its tracks.”

TRAFFIC is working with another NGO, WildAid to help support ASEAN-WEN. “Unfortunately, today’s seizure underscores the enormity of the task before us in reducing the illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia,” said Dr. Bill Schaedla from WildAid. “The criminals are clever and their reach extends across international boundaries: only a correspondingly well planned response from law-enforcement agencies is going to turn the tables on wildlife crime.”

ASEAN Wildlife Trade Initiative on the TRAFFIC website
About our wild pangolins in Singapore on the Wildlife Singapore website
Related articles on Singapore:wildlife trade
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