Smuggler arrested in Indonesia with over 2,000 endangered turtles

An Indonesian man has been arrested for trying to smuggle 2,000 endangered pig-nosed turtles, police said, marking the latest wildlife-trafficking arrest as the Southeast Asian nation battles the vast trade.

Authorities in Papua province said they seized 2,227 of the palm-sized turtles which were stuffed into boxes on a boat docked in the remote town of Agats.

"Officers saw a port worker carrying three big boxes and got suspicious," Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said late Thursday.

"This is protected species and they are not for sale."

Following the discovery, police arrested another man believed to be involved in the trafficking bid. The port worker was not detained.

If convicted, the arrested man could face up to five years in prison and a 100 million rupiah ($7,000) fine, police said.

Photos: AFP

It was not clear where the turtle shipment was headed.

The pig-nosed turtle - which has a distinctive snout-like nose and webbed feet - is only found in Australia and New Guinea, an island shared between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and is protected under Indonesian conservation laws.

Some turtle species are popular in China and elsewhere in Asia as food or for use in traditional medicine.

In 2014, Indonesian officials rescued more than 8,000 baby pig-nosed turtles hidden in suitcases and thought to be destined for China and Singapore.

This year, smugglers were arrested in neighbouring Malaysia with some 3,300 endangered turtles aboard their boat.

Indonesia, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands, is home to a kaleidoscope of exotic animals and plants, but the illegal trade in wildlife is rampant and laws aimed at providing protection are often poorly enforced.

Numerous endangered species, from the Sumatran elephant to the Javan rhino, have been driven to the brink of extinction.

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