Malaysia seizes thousands of smuggled turtles at airport

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Media captionMalaysian officials show off turtles seized at Kuala Lumpur airport

Malaysian authorities have seized more than 5,000 baby turtles discovered in luggage at Kuala Lumpur airport.

Two Indian men were arrested after the 5,255 red-eared sliders – a semi-aquatic species of turtle – were found in baskets inside their suitcases.

Officials say the turtles are worth about $12,700 (£10,018) and were intended to be sold as pets in India.

Malaysia is a major transit point for wildlife smugglers, who typically go on to trade in other Asian countries.

The two men were arrested last week after flying to Kuala Lumpur from the Chinese city of Guangzhou, senior Malaysian customs official Zulkurnain Mohamed Yusof said.

The men, aged 30 and 42, did not have permits for the turtles, he said.

They could now face up to five years in prison and a fine.

“This is the first such case of the year, and we are unable to state whether it involves a similar quantity or more [if compared with previous cases]. But it appears to be quite a large quantity in two suitcases found at the same time,” Mr Yusof said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Red-eared sliders are the most popular turtle in the pet trade, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

They are classified as an invasive species in a number of habitats and are now found in the wild in countries around the world, as a result of many being released by owners or escaping.

The turtles seized in Malaysia last week will be put under the care of wildlife officials.