JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian authorities have arrested a Japanese man who conservationists say is a major player in the illegal wildlife trade for allegedly attempting to smuggle more than 250 reptiles out of the country.
The head of law enforcement at Jakarta's international airport, Ridwan Alaydrus, said Thursday that Katsuhide Naito was arrested after customs officers found 181 lizards, 65 snakes and seven turtles in his luggage.
He said the wildlife seized Tuesday included 12 different species, three of which are endangered.
Naito allegedly bought the haul from poachers in northern Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo, Alaydrus said. It included green tree snakes, Borneo lizards and pig-nosed turtles, which are protected under Indonesian law.
Naito was arrested before boarding a flight to Japan. His travel documents indicated he is a frequent visitor to Indonesia, holding Platinum Elite Plus status with the country's national airline, Garuda.
Alaydrus said the man could be charged under Indonesia's animal quarantine law, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine.
The Wildlife Conservation Society's Indonesia program said it hopes Naito will also be charged under conservation laws with a maximum prison term of five years.
The group's crimes unit manager, Dwi Adhiasto, said Naito was a "big player" in the wildlife trade and was previously arrested in Australia in 2005 for smuggling 39 exotic reptiles from Southeast Asia.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 13,000 islands, is home to numerous reptile species, some of which are on the brink of extinction because of deforestation and poaching.