Taiwan seizes 3 ‘world’s most expensive’ tortoises at airport

Taipei--A Malaysian tourist was caught on Sunday at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport for trying to smuggle into Taiwan three angonoka tortoises, which are listed as critically endangered species by international wildlife conservation organizations and reputed to be the most expensive tortoise on earth - worth about NT$1 million (US$33,150) each.

The Malaysian man arrived at Taiwan's main international airport via Malaysia Airlines at around 3:30 p.m. and three tortoises were found in his luggage, Taipei Customs said.

The three animals were identified as angonoka tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora), a critically endangered land tortoise species endemic to Madagascar that has been included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and is listed as one of the world's three most threatened turtles in the World Wildlife Crime Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), according to Taipei Customs.

The man, surnamed Chan, was referred to prosecutors on charges of violating the Wildlife Conservation Act and the tortoises have been confiscated.

Violators of the act could face a jail sentence of between six months and five years and a fine of NT$300,000-NT$1.5 million, customs officers said.

The tortoise species, also known as ploughshare tortoise or Madagascar tortoise, is described by pet industry experts as the most expensive tortoise in the world and its value is measured by centimeter, with 1 c.m. worth about US$1,000.

Given that the largest of the tortoise was 41 c.m. in length, it could fetch NT$1.2 million, according to customs officers.

Earlier this year, customs officers seized one angonoka tortoise and 14 painted terrapins when they were smuggled from Malaysia to Taiwan. They were later taken to a wildlife rescue center in northern Taiwan.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel