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Smuggling bust: 1,495 live turtles found in 2 suitcases


A pig-nosed turtle.

Arrests of would-be smugglers packing suitcases with wildlife are hardly uncommon, but what happened Wednesday in Indonesia set a new bar: 1,495 live pig-nosed turtles were seized at an airport - crammed into two suitcases.

"The authorities involved in intercepting this shipment are to be congratulated,” Chris Shepherd, who works for the wildlife monitoring agency TRAFFIC, said in a statement. "However, the fact that dealers continue to smuggle shipments of this size indicates a serious problem in Indonesia, where illegal reptile trade is rife."

No arrests were reported when officials seized the suitcases that were about to be flown from a regional airport to the capital Jakarta.

TRAFFIC estimates that thousands of pig-nosed turtles, "valued as pets, and possibly consumed as meat in some countries," are smuggled out of Indonesia each year.

The species , threatened by smugglers and loss of habitat, is native to Indonesia's Papua region and is protected under Indonesian law.

"Many are destined for the pet markets of East Asia, to places such as Hong Kong, where demand for this species is rising," TRAFFIC added. "The turtles are often concealed in shipments of tropical aquarium fish."

In 2010, Indonesian officials found nearly 3,500 pig-nosed turtles in six containers bound for Hong Kong.

It's not just pig-nosed turtles, either, that are sought by smugglers feeding a demand for exotic pets or food. TRAFFIC regularly reports seizures of wildlife in Indonesia and other parts of Asia as well as Africa, where elephant tusks and rhino horns are valuable commodities.

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