- Thailand officials were first tipped off about some Facebook posts offering critically endangered Burmese star tortoises for sale in October 2015.
- On December 22, the officials raided the home of the suspect in Khon Khaen Province, in northeast Thailand, and found seven Burmese star tortoises.
- The authorities managed to arrest a second suspected tortoise thief too.
Thailand officials have arrested two people in connection with the sale of critically endangered Burmese star tortoises on Facebook, according to an announcement by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The officials were first tipped off about the Facebook ads in October 2015. They began monitoring the profile of the person offering to sell the tortoises, and found that the suspect continued to post similar offers.
On December 22, the officials raided the home of the suspect in Khon Khaen Province, in northeast Thailand, and found seven Burmese star tortoises (Geochelone platynota). Using a microchip reader, the authorities were able to identify three of the confiscated tortoises as among those stolen in October from a wildlife sanctuary in central Myanmar. This was possible because the stolen tortoises had identification numbers and religious markings on their shell, and microchips embedded in them. The authorities were, however, unable to confirm the origin of the four remaining tortoises.
The apprehended suspect claimed that he had purchased the tortoises from someone else in a market. The authorities managed to arrest the second suspect too, who did not seem to possess any tortoises. But the authorities were able to arrest him after they found an orangutan in his possession, obtained illegally.
All seven confiscated tortoises are now under quarantine in a wildlife rescue center in Thailand, according to Newsweek, but they will eventually be brought back to Myanmar. “Because of the safety concerns, the exact locations of the tortoise sanctuary in Myanmar could not be revealed,” a spokeswoman told Newsweek.
“We highly commend the governments of Myanmar and Thailand for collaborating on this investigation into the stolen Burmese star tortoises,” Than Myint, WCS Myanmar Country Program Director, said in a statement. “By working together, these governments are helping to ensure the survival of this highly endangered tortoise.”
Hunting for meat, and illegal pet trade have decimated Burmese star tortoise populations. Found only in central Myanmar, the species is now believed to be extinct in the wild, with no viable populations in its natural habitat. WCS Myanmar Program and the Turtle Survival Alliance have been working to breed the tortoises in captivity in Myanmar, and began releasing captive-born tortoises into the wild in 2013.