At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila this week, Philippine police seized over 1,500 live turtles and tortoises from four discarded pieces of luggage.
The animals were held in terrible conditions, each of them wrapped in duct tape so they couldn’t move. When customs officials were finally finished rescuing the animals, there was a pile of duct tape in the room that stood several feet high.
Authorities suspect that an international smuggler abandoned the turtles at the airport out of fear that they might be caught. It was reported by the BBC that these reptiles could have sold for over £60,000 or $86,631.
If the smuggler is caught they could have up to two years in prison and a fine of more than £7,000 or $9,000.
A wide variety of species were found in the luggage, including the Sulcata Tortoise species, which is recognized as vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened species. There were even some small baby turtles that were recovered in the luggage.
Luckily the animals were still alive and were handed over to the Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit.
According to a press release issued by customs officials via Facebook:
1,529 live exotic turtles were apprehended and turned over by Bureau of Customs NAIA to DENR Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit (DENR-WTMU) on March 3, 2019 at the NAIA Terminal 2, Pasay City.
The 1,529 live turtles (Star Tortoise, Redfoot Tortoise, Sulcata Tortoise, Red-eared Slider live species ) were found inside the left-behind luggage of a certain arriving Filipino passenger from flight PR 311 Hong Kong. The passenger may have been informed of the vigilance of Bureau of Customs against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties, thus leaving the four (4) X-Rayed luggage unclaimed in the arrival area.
Illegal Wildlife Trading is a violation of RA 10863 (Customs Modernization and Tariff Act) and RA 9147 (Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act).
Violators may face imprisonment of one (1) year and one (1) day to two (2) years and a fine of Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) to Two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00).
The statement also noted that customs officials found 63 Iguanas, Chameleon, and Bearded Dragons earlier this year. In 2018, the port intercepted a total of 560 animals, many of them endangered, including 250 geckos and 254 corals.
Image Credit: Bureau of Customs NAIA: Facebook