As Nithya Raja, 38, and Zakia Sulthana Ebrahim, 24, passed through pre-flight security on Monday at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, authorities asked them to open their suitcases. When the women complied, security personnel discovered 109 live animals inside. They summoned a team of wildlife officials who jointly arrested the women on charges of illegal international smuggling of wild animals.
A statement released by Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said that the animals included “two white porcupines, two armadillos, 35 turtles, 50 chameleons and 20 snakes.” Airport security were tipped off when an X-ray scan of the women’s suitcases revealed two suspicious objects. The women were boarding a Thai Airways flight to Chennai International Airport in Chennai, India.
According to a 2021 U.S. State Department report, 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 has having the highest number of wildlife seizure incidents in India over the past decade, “trafficking of over 70,000 native and exotic wild animals, including their body parts or derivatives…in 140 wildlife seizure incidents at 18 Indian airports between 2011-2020.”
In 2019, a man arriving in Chennai from Bangkok was detained after authorities found a month-old leopard cub in his luggage.
In this week’s case, Raja and Ebrahim, citizens of India, have been charged with violating the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act of 2019, the Animal Disease Act of 2015, which helps prevent and control epidemics, and the Customs Act of 2017. Thailand’s 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 the 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 frequently links with other forms of serious crime such as fraud, money laundering, and corruption.” However, the report pointed out that “most…illegal wildlife trade goes unchecked and unreported.”