The turtles were found inside four pieces of abandoned luggage of a Filipino passenger who arrived from Hong Kong.
Some 1,500 live exotic turtles ━ some restrained with duct-tape ━ have been found inside an airline passenger’s luggage, Philippine authorities said, as they vowed a crackdown on the lucrative wildlife trade.
The Philippines is a major source and transit point of wildlife trafficking, according to a 2018 report by the US State Department. It is likely that the turtles were caught in the disputed West Philippine Sea by Chinese poachers.
The passenger fled before authorities could confront him, customs officials said. “We saw the images from the x-ray machine,” Manila airport customs chief Carmelita Talusan told Agence France Presse.
“We never expected it would reach as many as 1,530,” Talusan said. “Our staff were taking care not to hurt them because duct tape was used to immobilize the turtles.”
Talusan said the matter was under investigation and authorities had identified the passenger, who could face charges of violating the nation’s illegal wildlife trading law, which carry a maximum two years in prison.
The seized turtles were estimated to be worth in excess of 13 million pesos (AUD329,000), a customs bureau official said.
The turtles confiscated on 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 told AFP.
“We are stepping up our all-out drive against the black market of endangered species.”