Malaysia: Customs seize almost US$280,000 worth of rare tortoises from Madagascar
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Malaysia: Customs seize almost US$280,000 worth of rare tortoises from Madagascar

Customs officials have seized 330 exotic tortoises worth an estimated US$277,000 after smugglers attempted to bring the creatures through Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Five rare Ploughshare tortoises and 325 Indian Star tortoises were packed in several boxes labelled ‘stones.’ The seizure is worth an estimated MYR1.2 million, as Ploughshare tortoises can be sold in Malaysia for as much as US$4,000 each, reports Today Online.

“This is our first case involving the Indian Star and Ploughshare species. The tortoises that are usually smuggled into the country are the smaller Black Pond type,” said Customs official Abdull Wahid Sulong.

Malaysian authorities raided boxes in KLIA’s cargo section after a tip off.

“We had one case in 2015 and four cases in 2016. They were hand-carried and flown in from Dhaka,” added Abdull.

Rare tortoises are usually kept as pets. On May 7, a Malaysian national was arrested attempting to bring three angonoka tortoises from Madagascar – the most expensive tortoises on the planet at US$33,150 each – into Taiwan.

Two Indian poachers were arrested in Thailand and Malaysia last week.

Conservationists have identified Malaysia as a key transit point in Asia for the illegal trafficking of endangered species.

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It is not the first occasion Malaysian authorities have seized illegal wildlife imports in recent weeks.

In April, authorities seized a huge quantity of rhino horns worth US$3.1 million flown in from Mozambique via Qatar.

Malaysian Customs made its largest-ever haul of pangolin scales last week, at 700kg worth an estimated US$2 million, which had been shipped into the country from Ghana using false documents.

Native to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, pangolins are one of the most poached and trafficked animals on the planet.

Global trade in pangolin scales is banned under a UN Convention but their meat is a delicacy in China and there is demand in other parts of Asia for use in traditional medicines.

The traffickers responsible for moving the tortoises are still at large.