1,500 exotic turtles found in unclaimed baggage at Manila airport
Some of the live turtles were wrapped in duct tape
More than 1,500 exotic tortoises and turtles, some of them wrapped in duct tape, have been seized at Manila airport in the Philippines.
The live turtles were found in four suitcases left in the unclaimed baggage area of Ninoy Aquino international airport.
Among the live reptiles were rare and protected species including Sulcata tortoises, Star tortoises, Redfoot tortoises and Red-eared Sliders.
The Philippines Bureau of Customs said the luggage was left behind by a Filipino passenger on a flight from Hong Kong, possibly after the passenger was “informed of the vigilance of the Bureau of Customs against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties”.
Customs officers put the value of the turtles – which are sold as exotic pets and for their meat or medicinal properties in some Asian countries – at up to 4.5 million pesos (318,000 Dh).
"We saw the images from the x-ray (machine)," Manila airport customs chief Carmelita Talusan told AFP. "We never expected it would reach as many as 1,530.”
"Our staff were taking care not to hurt them because duct tape was used to immobilise the turtles."
The matter is now under investigation and authorities have identified the passenger. Animal smuggling carries a penalty of up to two years in jail and a 200,000 peso (Dh14,000) fine in the Philippines.
The large seizure comes just one week after smugglers were arrested in Malaysia with 3,300 endangered pig-nosed turtles aboard a boat.
The freshwater species found in Indonesia's Papua, Papua New Guinea and northern Australia, is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Recent estimates suggest as much as 61 per cent of global turtle and tortoise diversity is under threat of extinction, or already lost.
Updated: March 6, 2019 12:20 PM