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FLORA AND FAUNA
Three Chinese in Tanzanian court over ivory haul
by Staff Writers
Dar Es Salaam (AFP) Nov 09, 2013


Almost 500 protected turtles found in Thai airport bags
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 08, 2013 - Thai customs have found over a thousand turtles and tortoises in airport luggage in a week, including a haul of 470 creatures Friday as conservationists warn of "skyrocketing" smuggling for the pet trade.

Officials at Suvarnabhumi Airport said a 25-year-old Pakistani man had been arrested on suspicion of wildlife trafficking after four suitcases on a flight from Lahore were found to contain the protected black pond turtles.

The discovery came after authorities found 423 protected tortoises and 52 black pond turtles stashed in unclaimed bags on a carousal on Wednesday after arriving on a flight from Bangladesh.

On Sunday, customs at the same airport found 80 more protected turtles on luggage also from Bangladesh.

"It does seem that the number of turtles and tortoises coming out of South Asia is skyrocketing, especially with regards to the black pond turtle," said Chris Shepherd of Wildlife trade protection group Traffic.

The rare black pond turtle originates in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal. International trade of the creatures is forbidden.

Shepherd said Thailand was a "globally significant trade hub" for turtles and tortoises and urged authorities to do more to find and prosecute high level smugglers.

"Few, if any, significant traders or kingpins in the tortoise and turtle racket have been penalised," he told AFP.

Thailand, seen as a hub for traffickers of many endangered species, came under pressure over the rampant smuggling of ivory through its territory during Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) talks in Bangkok this year.

Three Chinese nationals have been charged in Tanzania for possessing 706 tusks from poached elephants, court officials said Saturday.

Police and wildlife officers have cracked down on suspected poachers amid a surge of killings of elephant and rhino in the east African nation, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.

The three accused -- Huang Gin, Xu Fujie and Chen Jinzhan -- were arrested a week ago in the port city of Dar es Salaam. They had hidden the tusks, weighing 1.8 tonnes and worth an estimated $3.1 million, in containers.

Police and court officials said the trio were posing as garlic importers and marine product exporters. Magistrate Isaya Arufani denied them bail and ordered the case be heard in the high court.

"This court lacks jurisdiction to preside over the case which is prosecuted under organised crime and economic sabotage," the magistrate said. The trio face a maximum sentence of 20 years if found guilty.

The lucrative Asian black market for rhino horn, used in traditional medicine, and ivory has driven a boom in poaching across Africa.

Tourism is a key foreign currency earner for Tanzania, especially wildlife safaris to its world-famous parks that include the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater.

On Thursday President Jakaya Kikwete told parliament that a controversial anti-poaching operation -- dubbed "Operation Tokomeza", or "Operation Terminate" -- would continue despite protests over reports that police and wildlife officers were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

The Tanzanian parliament had suspended the operation last week after lawmakers alleged a string of abuses, but Kikwete said abandoning the operation was tantamount to letting the poachers win.

On Saturday, Tanzania's main human rights group demanded the resignation of the country's tourism minister over the alleged murders of four people, among them a woman, during the anti-poaching crackdown.

The Legal and Human Rights Center, or LHRC, said the female victim was beaten to death by police who were conducting a search of her home, where they suspected her husband had hidden wildlife trophies.

"Since its launch, the operation has been characterised by flagrant violations of human rights and the Tanzanian constitution," a statement said.

strs-sas/jhb

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