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Snakes on a plane (and turtles and spiders and…)

Smuggler apprehended with three bags of wildlife

A man was detained at Thailand’s international airport as he tried to smuggle almost 200 live animals, including snakes, tortoises and lizards, out of the country on February 9, 2011. The Indonesian man was stopped after the regular luggage scanning process at the airport showed images of an array of animals stuffed inside his three black bags.

Authorities found 88 Indian Star tortoises, 33 Elongated Tortoises, seven Radiated Tortoises, six Mata Mata Turtles, four Southeast Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle, three Aldabra Tortoises, one Pig-nosed Turtle and even one Ploughshare Tortoise—the worlds’ rarest tortoise. Alongside these, he packed 34 Ball Pythons, two Boa Constrictors, several Milk Snakes, Corn Snakes and King Snakes, as well as a Hog-nosed Snake. The suspect also had 19 Bearded Dragons, four Spiny-tailed Lizards, two Sunda Plated Lizards, six Argentine Horned Frogs. And he managed to fit 18 Baboon Spiders, each in its own plastic container, 22 Common Squirrels and one African Grey Parrot into his luggage.

The suspect admitted to authorities that he had purchased the animals from Bangkok’s infamous Chatuchak Market, which is a major hub for some of the world’s rarest species in trade. 

Photo Gallery

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The modified suitcases used in the attempted smuggling attempt.

“This crazy situation is reminiscent of something out of a bad movie script, like ’Snakes on a Plane,’” said Crawford Allan of TRAFFIC North America. “But it’s not the people on the plane who are at risk. It’s the endangered species that are being squashed into suitcases after being hunted down in the wild. This guy had the world’s rarest species of tortoise, and this is happening all the time because there is so much profit dealing in threatened species.” 

Illegal wildlife trade is one of the primary threats to a large number of species. In the last hundred years tiger numbers have declined by almost 97 percent. Up to 12,000 African elephants are illegally killed each year to supply domestic ivory markets. Three out of seven species of marine turtles are now critically endangered. Illegal trade relies on well-organized criminal networks that create black markets and smuggling syndicates to move and trade the world’s rarest animals and plants.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to counter illegal trade and ensure sustainability of legal trade through methods ranging from undercover field investigations to providing high level policy engagement with governments. TRAFFIC and WWF work throughout Southeast Asia to raise awareness about illegal trafficking and to train airport officials about how to spot people carrying wildlife or buying illegal wildlife.

Our message to anyone trying to do this: Don’t. You will get caught