Two Indian women were arrested at a Bangkok airport after more than 100 live animals were found in their luggage, Thai officials said, amid an uptick in wildlife trafficking as pandemic travel restrictions are relaxed worldwide.

Officials detected suspicious objects in the women’s luggage during an X-ray scan at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, according to Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Authorities conducted a search and found 50 lizards, 35 turtles and two porcupines, among other animals. At least two of the animals are dead and many were dehydrated.

Among the animals were the yellow-spotted river turtle, which is native to the Amazon and on an international vulnerable species list, and the Peter’s banded skink, which is sold as a pet in the United States.

Thai officials did not identify the two women. They were charged with violating Thailand’s customs and public health laws, as well as the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act. The latter charge can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years, a maximum fine of about $28,500, or both.

Thailand’s parks department and the Indian Embassy in Bangkok did not respond to requests for comment.

The women were attempting to board a flight for the southern Indian city of Chennai, authorities said. More than 70,000 animals were seized at Indian airports between 2011 and 2020, according to Traffic, a nongovernmental organization. Thirty-six percent of those seizures were listed at the Chennai airport.

Advertising

Wildlife trafficking is an illicit trade worth up to $150 billion a year globally, according to U.K. conservation group United for Wildlife. The coronavirus pandemic led to a sharp reduction in animal trafficking worldwide, but activity is rebounding as restrictions are eased, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The Southeast Asian nation has made efforts to tackle the trade, including strengthening penalties for wildlife traffickers in 2019. The maximum fine for violating wildlife trafficking laws has increased by 25 times, while the maximum prison term increased 21/2 times to 10 years.

Thai authorities seized at least 636 animals last month at Suvarnabhumi Airport. In April, 34 turtles, including the critically endangered Burmese star tortoise, were found in mail packages intended for the Philippines.

In May 2021, the Thai government launched a campaign against wildlife trafficking that it linked to the coronavirus pandemic, which may have roots in a pathogen originally carried by a wild animal, the Associated Press reported. The campaign’s motto: “Stop disease and extinctions: Never eat, buy, hunt or sell wildlife.”