A Japanese man has been arrested in Indonesia for allegedly trying to smuggle hundreds of reptiles out from the country, including snakes, lizards and turtles, the authorities said Friday.
Katsuhide Naito was detained at Jakarta's main airport when he was about to board a flight to Tokyo with over 250 animals hidden in his bags. The police believe that he is one of the major players in the country's wildlife-smuggling trade.
"Officials became suspicious seeing him with so many suitcases," Tisna Nando, spokeswoman for NGO the Wildlife Conservation Society, which was involved in the investigation, told AFP.
"After they were opened, we found hundreds of reptiles, most of them were alive," Nando added. The spokeswoman said that the reptiles were stuffed into four suitcases and one box and four were dead.
Ruchyana, an official from the airport operator who goes by one name, said that Naito was arrested late on Monday. He was carrying protected species including green tree pythons, lizards from Borneo island and pig-nosed turtles.
The 51-year-old detainee had been in Medan, on the jungle-clad Indonesian island of Sumatra, before he arrived in Jakarta. If convicted of breaking Indonesian wildlife laws, he could face up to three years in prison.
The Wildlife Conservation Society believes that Naito was part of a larger wildlife-smuggling syndicate. "We believe he is a big player and part of a syndicate which has been active in wildlife trading for more than 12 years," Nando said.
She said he was arrested in 2005 in Australia for attempting to smuggle reptiles into the country from Southeast Asia.
Indonesia is a home to vast rainforests and a kaleidoscope of exotic animals. But, wildlife smuggling is quite common in the country. The environmentalists say that a lack of resources and corruption are undermining law enforcement efforts.