As Nithya Raja, 38, and Zakia Sulthana Ebrahim, 24, passed through security before the flight Monday at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, authorities asked them to open their suitcases. When the women obeyed, security personnel discovered 109 live animals inside. They summoned a team of wildlife officials who jointly arrested the women on charges of illegal international wildlife smuggling.
A statement from Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said the animals included “two white pigs, two armadillos, 35 turtles, 50 chameleons and 20 snakes.” Airport security was informed when an X-ray scan of the women’s luggage revealed two suspicious objects. The women were boarding a Thai Airways flight to Chennai International Airport in Chennai, India.
According to a US State Department report of 2021, India is a major source, a major transit point and a major consumer of wildlife trafficking products. TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring agency, lists Chennai International Airport as having the highest number of wildlife capture incidents in India over the past decade, “trafficking in over 70,000 domestic and exotic wildlife, including body parts or their derivatives… in 140 wildlife capture incidents at 18 Indian airports between 2011-2020.
In 2019, a man who arrived in Chennai from Bangkok was arrested after authorities found a months-old leopard cub in his luggage.
In this week’s case, Raja and Ebrahim, citizens of India, have been accused of violating the 2019 Wildlife Conservation Act, the Animal Diseases Act 2015, which helps prevent and control epidemics , and the 2017 Customs Act.The Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation confiscated the animals and said they would be transported to wildlife rescue centers. They also reported that two iguanas were found dead and all reptiles were dehydrated.
A recent TRAFFIC report stated that wildlife trafficking is “the fourth largest illegal trade worldwide after arms, drugs and human trafficking, and is often linked to other forms of serious crime such as fraud,” money laundering and corruption “. However, the report noted that “most of the illegal wildlife trade goes unchecked and unreported”.