Customs officers have seized more than 1,500 live turtles and tortoises found wrapped in duct tape and abandoned at Manila airport.
The reptiles, stuffed into four unclaimed pieces of luggage, had an estimated black-market value of more than 4.5 million pesos.
Police believe the bags were abandoned after the carrier became aware of the penalties for illegal wildlife trafficking.
If caught, they could have faced two years in jail and a fine of up to 200,000 pesos.
A total of 1,529 turtles and tortoises of different species were found in the arrivals area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport yesterday (Sunday, March 3).
Among them were threatened varieties including star tortoises, red-footed tortoises, sulcata tortoises and red-eared sliders.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said they were left behind by a passenger who had arrived onboard a Philippine Airlines flight from Hong Kong.
A statement from the BOC today said: “The passenger may have been informed of the vigilance of the port against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties, thus leaving the 4 x-rayed luggage unclaimed in the arrival area.”
The turtles were turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit for safekeeping.
Turtles and tortoises are kept as exotic pets, but are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and considered a delicacy. Their meat is believed to be an aphrodisiac, while the bones are powdered to make medicine.
The smuggling of the turtles is a violation of Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act as well as RA 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
The incident coincided with World Wildlife Day, held every March 3 to “celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants”.
The turtles were turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit for safekeeping.
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