Thai Airways horror as women attempted to board flight with 109 live animals stowed in bag

… attempted to board a Thai Airways flight to … s Suvarnabhumi Airport (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, … at the airport in Thailand (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, … products policy." The Government launched the digital ivory …

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Officers discovered 50 chameleons, 35 turtles, 20 snakes, two white porcupines and two armadillos in bags. The two women had attempted to board a Thai Airways flight to Chennai in India.

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A routine airport scan at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday roused suspicions.

The women have been charged under Thailand's Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act, Animal Epidemic Act and Customs Act.

Wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic has said trading wild animals is a serious and growing problem.

A report published in March said trading wild animals is the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after arms, drugs and human trafficking.

Smuggled wildlife can be used for food, traditional medicines, in fashion and as exotic pets.

An officer holds a bucket of turtles seized at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation)

A scan of a piece of luggage (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation)

Traffic says continued consumer demand, mainly from Asia, for rare horns, ivory, bones, skins and precious timber is driving "unprecedented wildlife population declines".

Analysis by Traffic published in March found 70,000 native and exotic wild animals - including body parts or derivatives - in 140 seizures at 18 Indian airports between 2011-20.

Many of those species are listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Reptiles were the most frequent group noted during the period of the study, followed by mammals, timber and marine species.

Chennai International Airport saw the highest number of wildlife seizures, according to Traffic's analysis.

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An armadillo in a pet carrier (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation)

Officers empty luggage of pet carriers (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation)

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Traffic notes, however, that most of the illegal wildlife trade goes "unchecked and unreported".

The value of the illegal wildlife trade was estimated by the United Nations as being between £6 billion to £19bn ($7bn to $23bn) in 2016.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says stopping the banned trade is one of the most important and urgent elements of its work to protect threatened species.

It notes wildlife faces a global poaching crisis which threatens to overturn decades of conservation success.

For animals, including elephants, rhinos and tigers, the WWF says the situation is critical.

An armadillo in a pet carrier found at the airport in Thailand (Image: Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation)

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A near total UK ban on the trade of ivory came into effect last month.

The import, export and dealing of elephant ivory items of all ages is now illegal, unless they have been registered or have an exemption certificate.

Elephants are commonly targeted for their tusks with demand for ivory known to contribute to poaching, which is driving a decline in populations.

The number of elephants free in the wild has declined by almost a third, with the savanna elephant population plummeting by around 30 percent - equal to 144,000 elephants - across 15 African countries between 2007 and 2014.

It is estimated around 20,000 elephants are also still being slaughtered annually because of the global demand for ivory.

A lone bull elephant mock charges in the Botswanan savannah (Image: Getty)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the ban would ensure vital protection for the world's elephants by putting a stop to the UK trade in ivory.

DEFRA said that its ban placed the UK "at the forefront of global conservation efforts".

Those found guilty of breaching the ban will face penalties including an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

Animal welfare minister Lord Goldsmith said at the time: "The world-leading Ivory Act coming into force represents a landmark moment in securing the survival of elephants across the globe for future generations.

"Thousands of elephants are unnecessarily and cruelly targeted for their ivory every year for financial gain. As one of the toughest bans of its kind, we are sending a clear message that the commercial trade of elephant ivory is totally unacceptable."

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An investigation by animal charity Born Free, released to coincide with the ban, found 1,832 overt and covert listings containing ivory in the UK in one month alone, with an estimated value of £1.1million.

Roughly 85 percent of the listings openly described ivory products.

Ninety-five percent of those seeking to sell ivory, either disguised or described as something else, appeared on eBay's UK platform, which already prohibits selling ivory.

Born Free's head of policy, Dr Mark Jones, said the ban's implementation must be sufficiently robust to ensure only items which genuinely meet the exemption criteria can be traded in future, and that any transgressions are dealt with promptly and severely.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) UK director James Sawyer said: "With as many as 20,000 elephants a year poached for ivory, this ban could not have come a moment too soon.

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"Legal ivory markets have long provided a smokescreen for illegal trade, putting endangered elephants in further jeopardy. Ivory trading in the UK has now rightly been consigned to the history books and everyone who has played a part in this important conservation victory should be proud."

An eBay spokesman said: "eBay is a founding member of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online. We have been working to tackle the illegal trade in elephant ivory for many years, and work alongside WWF and IFAW to continually update our measures.

"We have global teams dedicated to upholding standards on our marketplace, and over a recent two-year period we blocked or removed over 265,000 listings prohibited under our animal products policy."

The Government launched the digital ivory service earlier this year, allowing those who own ivory to register or apply for an exemption certificate.

People will need to register or certify items only for the purposes of dealing in exempt items containing ivory. Those who own but are not planning to sell their ivory items do not need to register or certify them.

The Government is also considering extending the Ivory Act to other ivory-bearing species and will publish the response to its consultation later this year.

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