The luggage carrying the animals was abandoned by a passenger, allegedly a Filipino national, before arriving at the security check.
Over 1,500 exotic turtles and tortoises wrapped in duct tape, reportedly smuggled into the Philippines from China, were found left behind inside four luggage items at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Sunday.
The luggage carrying the animals was abandoned by a passenger, allegedly a Filipino national, before arriving at the security check. The Bureau of Customs NAIA released a statement, suggesting that the "passenger may have been informed of the vigilance of Bureau of Customs against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties," explaining why they left the luggage containing the live animals in the arrivals section of the airport.
Some of the animals were bound by duct tape, and others were mixed with clothing and other ordinary luggage items.
In the Philippines, those convicted of illegal wildlife trade can face fines up to 200,000 pesos (US$4,000) and a two-year prison sentence under the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. The bureau emphasized its objective to "continuously protect the borders against importation and exportation of illegal wildlife trade and other prohibited and anti-social goods."
Custom authorities mention that this is not an isolated situation, as they have found "a total of 560 wildlife and endangered species including 250 geckos, 254 corals and other reptiles" in luggage and shipment items.
The animals were appraised at roughly US$86,000 and included rare species such as star tortoises, red-footed tortoises, red-eared slider turtles and sulcata tortoises.
"Turtles and tortoises are often kept as exotic pets, but are sometimes also used as a form of traditional medicine or served as a delicacy across parts of Asia," the BBC stated.
According to reports, the turtles and tortoises were handed over to the Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit of the Philippines Department on Natural Resources.