This is a short article about officials in Thailand arresting a pair of smugglers at an airport for attempting to sneak 54 ploughshare tortoises (aka angonoka tortoises/Madagascar tortoise) in from Madagascar. Although 54 tortoises doesn’t seem like a big deal, ploughshare tortoises are considered one of the most critically endangered species on the plant. Consequently, 54 tortoises out of the estimated 400 individuals alive today adds up to over 10% of the entire population. The tortoises may have been destined to become exotic pets. Apparently Thailand is quite the hotspot for illegal wildlife traders, but thankfully smuggling enforcement is improving and leading to successful seizures like this one.
I thought it was crazy to look at the picture of the tortoises and realize it is over 10% of an entire species! Plus they were all contained in two small bins! The size of the tortoises definitely benefits the smugglers. Nobody could smuggle 10% of the pandas in the world into a suitcase. I am wondering where the smugglers got the tortoises from in the first place. If these tortoises are extremely endangered, I would think they would be rather difficult to find, especially given their size. In terms of smuggling, I guess I’m happy about them being tortoises because they can be smuggled alive. With other popular smuggling items like ivory or wood, the damage has already been done. The rhinos or trees are already dead. The only “good” that comes out of those busts is the possibility of dissuading other smugglers. However, with these tortoises, they are still alive and can be thrown back into their gene pool. This is vital for tortoises/turtles because they tend to become sexually mature at a relatively old age. On the IUCN link from the article, it says that ploughshare tortoises are estimated to become sexually mature at a minimum of 15 years old. Likewise, many species of sea turtles don’t become sexually mature until between ages 20 or 30. For some green turtles, it can even take up to 50 years!