Customs authorities in Malaysia seized 330 endangered tortoises on Monday (15 May) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in yet another animal trafficking case in the country in a week. The land-dwelling reptiles are reported to be valued at Malaysian ringgit 1.2m ($277,000, £214,000).
Most of the tortoises are of the Indian Star species and five of the Ploughshare species endemic to Madagascar. They were found in five boxes during an inspection at the air cargo warehouse of the airport after customs officials received a tip-off.
The packages containing the tortoises were declared as "stones", Kuala Lumpur Airport Custom Deputy Director Abdul Wahid Sulong told reporters. The boxes, carrying a forged air bill, flew in on 14 May on an Etihad Airways flight from Antananarivo Airport in Madagascar.
A fake address was given as the final destination of the shipment. It was marked to be delivered to a place in Sepang, Selangor, a state in Malaysia's west coast.
"This is our first case involving the Indian Star and Ploughshare species. The tortoises that are usually smuggled into the country are the smaller Black Pond type," the Asian Correspondent cited Abdul as saying.
According to local media reports, the Ploughshare tortoises can be sold in Malaysia for around $4,000 each, while an Indian Star can fetch up to $1,000 on the Malaysian black market.
Rare tortoises are usually sold as pets in Malaysia. However, customs authorities could not ascertain whether the animals were smuggled into the country to be sold in the Malaysian market or were in transit to another country.
No one has been arrested in connection with the seizures as no recipient could be traced.
In a similar smuggling incident earlier this month, a Malaysian national was arrested for trying to bring three angonoka tortoises from Madagascar into Taiwan. Angonokas are the world's most expensive tortoises priced at $33,150 each.
Smuggling of parts of endangered species is illegal in Malaysia and if convicted a person can face a minimum fine of 10 times or a maximum of 20 times the amount of the customs duty or Malaysian ringgit 100,000, and/or imprisonment not exceeding three years.
Malaysia is identified as a major transit point in Asia for illegal trafficking of endangered species.
On 8 May, Malaysian authorities seized more than $2m worth pangolin scales at Kuala Lumpur airport, in what was seen as the largest smuggling case involving the little animal in the country. Some 1,400 pangolins were thought to have been killed to yield this huge amount of scales. The 700kg scales were flown in from Mozambique via Qatar.