Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Rare tortoises discovered in luggage

By Yao Chieh-hsiu and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The largest of three endangered angonoka tortoises seized from the luggage of a Malaysian man by customs officials sits in a box at at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Sunday.

Photo: CNA

Customs officials on Sunday discovered three tortoises in the luggage of a Malaysian man who arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on a Malaysian Airlines flight.

Officers said the tortoises were discovered by X-ray in the luggage of the 48-year-old man surnamed Chan, who said that he had bought them as a gift for a friend.

Customs officers identified the turtles as angonoka tortoises, also known as ploughshare tortoises, which are a critically endangered species classified under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s (CITES) Appendix I.

Native to the northwestern coast of Madagascar, they are listed as one of the world’s three most threatened tortoises in the World Wildlife Crime Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The name angonoka comes from Malagasy, while the English name for the species comes from the protrusion of the underside of the tortoises’ shell, which resembles a plow.

Only about 1,000 of the tortoises are believed to remain in Madagascar despite artificial breeding efforts.

Buyers pay up to NT$30,000 (US$998) per centimeter for an angonoka tortoise, making them the most expensive pet tortoises in the world, the officers said.

The largest of the three tortoises found on Sunday measured 41cm, giving it an estimated value of NT$1.24 million, while the others measured 26cm and 24cm respectively, putting their combined value at about NT$1.5 million, customs officials said.

Under the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法), those convicted of bringing CITES-classified animals into the nation illegally could face a jail term ranging from six months to five years and fines ranging from NT$300,000 to NT$1.5 million.

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