MANILA (AFP) – Some 1,500 live exotic turtles – some restrained with duct-tape – have been found inside an airline passenger’s luggage, Philippines authorities said on Monday, 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.
The turtles and tortoises were found at Manila airport on Sunday in the luggage of a Filipino passenger, who had arrived from Hong Kong, hidden among clothes and shoes.
The person 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 AFP.
“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 immobilise 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 turtles seized were estimated to be worth 4.5 million pesos (USD87,000), the Customs Bureau said.