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  New Straits Times 15 Sep 06
Smuggler found with 1,460 star tortoises

Elizabeth John

KUALA LUMPUR: Heavy luggage always spells trouble at airports, but for one Malaysian traveller, it was a case of a thousand protected tortoises too many.

Indian Customs officials arrested the ornamental fish trader on Tuesday night after he checked in a stroller bag and suitcase stuffed with 1,460 Indian star tortoises. It was the biggest single illegal consignment of the endangered tortoises they had seen.

Customs officers stopped the Malaysian as he was headed for Immigration at the Chennai airport, Indian news reports said. He reportedly told them that his bags contained only his personal belongings.

Because he appeared nervous, the officers searched his baggage and found the live tortoises worth RM300,000. He has been handed over to the Forest Department for investigation. The Malaysian could face several years behind bars if found guilty under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, said Forest Range officer K. S. Sathyamoorthy.

This is the second time a Malaysian has been arrested in Chennai for smuggling star tortoises. A year ago, another Malaysian was found with 350 star tortoises in his luggage, he said.

Judging from previous seizures, Malaysia is the main destination of star tortoise smugglers, said Sathyamoorthy, who is handling the investigation for the Chennai Wildlife Department.

Palm-sized, with pretty brown shells bearing beige star-like markings, hatchlings fetch about RM80 in pet shops, while larger ones sell for about RM150. Trade in star tortoises is strictly regulated under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Their capture and sale is banned in India and Pakistan.

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