6 min read

Dozens Of Live Animals Spent Days In These Tiny Plastic Boxes

“We would expect the trader to have easily made over $20,000 USD.”

The team at the Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre (LWRC) is used to rescuing native animals — animals like gibbons and pangolins and slow lorises who have been illegally captured from the wild. So they were surprised when they were recently asked to help 70 reptiles who’d been born and raised in captivity.

“This was a new one for us,” George Sullivan, manager of LWRC, told The Dodo. “The authorities called us to take the animals from them, as we are the only mixed taxa rescue centre, and the Laos government have no animal holding facilities of any kind.”

Officials with confiscated animals in boxes
LWRC

The 70 reptiles, which included 20 lizards, 19 snakes and 31 tortoises, may not have been captured from the wild, but they’d still been through a lot. People had tried to smuggle them into Laos from Malaysia, although they probably originated from Thailand, Sullivan explained.

Authorities with confiscated reptiles
LWRC

The animals were likely intended to be sold as exotic pets — perhaps in Laos itself, or in a neighboring country like China or Vietnam where there’s high demand for wildlife.

“We would expect the trader to have easily made over $20,000 USD,” Sullivan said.

But trading these animals across international borders was highly illegal.

Exotic reptiles in plastic boxes
LWRC

“For all of these animals to cross the border into Laos, they needed a permit,” Sullivan said. “And then to be kept by an individual within Laos, you would also need a permit, but these animals had none of these.”

Not only that, but the animals hadn’t been shipped in a very humane way.

Authorities with confiscated exotic animals
LWRC

“Some of the animals, such as the tortoises, were packed into the boxes tightly,” Sullivan said. “Other species, such as the pythons, were kept in bags within the small boxes.”

“It is unclear how long the animals were in the boxes before they were confiscated, but with some of the species, there was a fair amount of feces in the boxes,” said Sullivan, who estimates that the animals were trapped in the boxes for at least a few days.

Rescued snake in crate
LWRC

Another concern was that many of the animals were hatchlings, who’d probably only been born about a week ago. For them, the journey would have been particularly hard.

While it’s fortunate that the animals ended up at LWRC, the team is struggling to feed and care for them.

Person holding rescued turtle
LWRC

“Some of these hatchlings are especially difficult to rear,” Sullivan said. “Being hatchling-age, we need to source food small enough for them to eat, and continue sourcing different sizes of food as the reptiles grow.”

“Most of these animals eat live food such as crickets … but in Laos, it is extremely difficult to source these live foods,” Sullivan added. “Therefore, we have to start our own breeding colonies of live food on site, just to feed these hatchlings correctly.”

Rescued reptile in enclosure
LWRC

Sullivan is also worried about the animals outgrowing their enclosures.

“Currently, we are keeping them in size-appropriate enclosures, though soon we will have to source, buy and build them larger-sized enclosures as they grow,” he said.

The reptiles will never be able to be released into the wild.

Rescued tortoises in crate
LWRC

“Sadly, the majority of the animals which were confiscated do not represent their wild counterparts,” Sullivan said. “Some are ‘morphs,’ which means they have been bred intensively to show certain [physical] traits.”

Due to these genetic modifications, the animals would have a hard time adapting to a natural environment. Not only that, but if they escaped into the wild, they could threaten the gene pools of native species.

Person holding rescued reptile
LWRC

Despite the challenges, the team at LWRC is doing everything it can to give the animals a good life. “This is where these reptiles now call home,” Sullivan said.

To help the Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre care for the 70 exotic reptiles in their care, you can make a donation.