Asia-Pacific

Smuggled rare Madagascar tortoises seized in Malaysia

A Ploughshare tortoise. File photo
Image caption It is the second such find in the last month

Customs officers at Kuala Lumpur airport have found nearly 400 rare tortoises smuggled from Madagascar.

The Radiated and Ploughshare tortoises were on the last leg of their journey to pet shops and possibly cooking pots, Malaysian officials believe.

Also recovered were more than 40 rare tomato frogs.

There are fears that as Madagascar's political problems continue, illegal exportation of the country's animals and plants is on the rise.

It is the second such find in the last month.

Two Malagasy women have been arrested. Officials say the animals were found in their luggage.

'Free for all'

Richard Thomas of Traffic International, an organisation trying to stop the illegal trade in exotic animals, said both species of tortoise involved in this case were incredibly rare.

Much of Madagascar's flora and fauna, including its famous lemurs, are unique to the island. They draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the country.

They are also under increasing threat from exploitation.

This, says Mr Thomas, is not being helped by a collapsing economy brought on by political problems.

Some conservationists talk of a "free for all" in Madagascar with criminal gangs operating virtually at will.

A recent report by the Global Witness group uncovered a massive industry in smuggling precious hardwoods. Members of the police and forestry departments were implicated.

The government has also legalised the sale of some seized hardwoods.

The environmental group WWF says the authorities have been in effect selling illegally harvested wood for their own profit.

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