Manila airport finds 1,500 live turtles in suitcases | News | DW | 04.03.2019
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Manila airport finds 1,500 live turtles in suitcases

Hundreds of live turtles and tortoises have been found in suitcases at Manila airport's baggage claim in the Philippines. The intercepted reptiles included a number of endangered species and were worth around €76,700.

Customs authorities in the Philippines have intercepted more than 1,500 live turtles and tortoises packed inside suitcases at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, officials said Monday.

The 1,529 reptiles were found hidden among clothes and shoes in four suitcases that are believed to have been abandoned in the arrivals section by a passenger who arrived from Hong Kong.

Read more: Cracking the bad eggs of the turtle trade 

The species included several star tortoises, red-footed tortoises, sulcata tortoises, and red-eared sliders, the customs bureau said in a statement on Monday. Some of the animals had their legs restrained with duct tape.

The turtles seized were estimated to be worth 4.5 million Philippine pesos (€76,700, $87,000), the customs bureau announced.

Turtles that were intercepted at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport after being found hidden inside four suitcases (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Bureau of Customs)

The turtles were found hidden between clothes and shoes

Smuggler on the run

The suspected smuggler disappeared before authorities could confront him or her, officials said.

"The passenger may have been informed of the vigilance of the port against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties, thus leaving the luggage unclaimed in the arrival area," the statement said.

"We saw the images from the x-ray (machine)," Manila airport customs chief Carmelita Talusan said.

Read more: SOS: Turtles in need

"Our staff were taking care not to hurt them because duct tape was used to immobilize the turtles," he added.

Investigators said they are now working to determine the whereabouts of the passenger who attempted to smuggle the reptiles.

They could could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 Philippine pesos (€1,760, $2,000 dollars) if convicted of the crime.

Philippines struggle to curb wildlife trade

The Philippines is a major source and transit point of wildlife trafficking, according to a 2018 report by the US State Department.

The smuggling and trade of turtles and tortoises in the Philippines is banned under the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, but the Philippines authorities have struggled to curb the illegal wildlife trade.

The turtles confiscated on Sunday were likely destined to be sold in the Philippines or smuggled to other countries using false documents, environment officials said.

"It's for business purposes. Those turtles are expensive. It's such a lucrative business. There are buyers and collectors who treat them as pets," environment undersecretary Benny Antiporda remarked.

Antiporda said the Philippines would ask Chinese authorities whether they wanted to take back the confiscated turtles which were being quarantined and treated in Manila.

The reptiles have been handed over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit for safekeeping, the customs bureau statement said.

law/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)

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