Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 23rd May 2017—World Turtle Day: a recent conviction in Malaysia has highlighted the threat to freshwater turtles from illegal trade to supply an apparently growing demand for rare species in Southeast Asia.
Last week, a wanted turtle trafficker was sentenced to 39 months’ imprisonment by a Malaysian court after he was found guilty of illegal possession of 20 internationally protected Black Pond Turtles Geoclemys hamiltonii.
The South Asian species is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which prohibits international commercial trade in the species.
According to Malaysia’s Wildlife Department, Indian national, Bakrudin Ali Ahamed Habeeb was arrested on 9th May in a Kuala Lumpur hotel by officers who found the 20 turtles in three suitcases.
Bakrudin was subsequently charged under three clauses of Peninsular Malaysia’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and given 24 months jail on the first charge of illegal possession of 10 female Black Pond Turtles; 12 months jail on a second charge of illegal possession of 10 more Black Pond Turtles and sentenced to 3 months on the final charge of cruelty towards the animals. The court ruled that all the jail terms would run concurrently from the date of arrest. Peninsular Malaysia Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) is working to repatriate the seized turtles.
"We hope this seizure sends a message to traffickers that we mean business and will not hesitate to take legal action. We are also working to ensure the turtles get back to their county of origin," said PERHILITAN Director General, Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim.
Bakrudin’s arrest made headlines in India with media reporting that the seizure in Malaysia took place in collaboration with India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB). The Bureau was also quoted as saying that Bakrudin was among a number of online wildlife traders that were being watched and sought under a special operation to crackdown on wildlife cybercrime.
TRAFFIC’s research shows that 1,960 Black Pond Turtles were seized between January 2008 and March 2014. Yet seizures in 2016 alone exceeded 1,000 animals.
“The trade in the Black Pond Turtles is escalating at such a quick pace that it is pushing this already threatened species close to the brink of extinction. Enforcement efforts and importantly, successful convictions such as those in Malaysia are essential to stem this problem,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Asia.
Trafficking of freshwater turtles and tortoises between South Asia and Southeast Asia has been a longstanding problem to meet the persistent demand for exotic pets.
Separately another reptile trader under WCCB watch was reportedly arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport on 4th May as he was attempting to exit Thailand with Leopard Tortoises Stigmochelys pardalis and Meerkats Suricata suricatta.
Last July, PERHILITAN arrested four Indian nationals with 1011 Indian Star Tortoises Geochelone elegans, 23 Indian Roofed Turtles Pangshura tecta and 36 Black Pond Turtles from two raids.
‘’The high-frequency of trafficking reports backs calls for closer collaboration between enforcement agencies in South and Southeast Asia and the urgent need for a system to ensure the quick repatriation of seized turtles and tortoises,’’ said Shepherd.