Rare animals found stuffed in man’s suitcases at airport

2011-02-11 07:27

Dozens of snakes, boxes of spiders and one of the world’s rarest tortoises were among hundreds of live animals found in a man’s airport luggage after a shopping spree at a Bangkok market, Thai officials said today.

Rivo Cahyono, a 34-year-old from Indonesia, was arrested trying to board a flight from the Thai capital when X-rays showed the creatures stuffed inside three suitcases, said the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation department.

Special compartments in the man’s bags contained 88 Indian Star tortoises, a protected species, 33 Elongated tortoises and one Ploughshare – the world’s rarest type of tortoise, Wildlife trade group Traffic said.

Among the many snakes found were two boa constrictors and 34 ball pythons, while 18 baboon spiders, packed individually in plastic containers, squirrels, lizards and an African grey parrot were also discovered.

The Thai official who made the arrest said Cahyono told authorities he had bought all the animals from Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market.

Traffic said the capital’s biggest open air market was a “major hub for some of the world’s rarest species” and illegal sales continue “every weekend on an open basis” despite complaints to Thai authorities.

The group’s regional director, William Schaedla, commended the seizure but raised concerns about the open availability of protected animals at Chatuchak, which he said was “just down the street” from Thai wildlife protection offices.

“Frankly, the situation is totally unacceptable in a country that claims to be effectively addressing illegal wildlife trade,” he said.

The group said sellers at the market had openly admitted to its staff that many animals they sold had been illegally obtained and “even offer advice on how to smuggle them out of the country”.

A statement from the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation department said it estimated the man could have bought all the animals for around $24 000 (about R175 000), but Traffic said the re-sale value would likely be much higher.

Cahyono was about to board an Air Asia flight to Surabaya in Indonesia when animals were discovered in one of his bags. The airline then unloaded two suitcases already on the plane and the extent of the haul was revealed.

He was charged with illegal possession and wildlife smuggling and faces a maximum of four years in prison and a fine up to 40 000 baht (about R9 500).

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