SEPANG: Malaysian authorities have seized more than 5,000 smuggled terrapins at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2).
The 5,255 red-eared sliders, a semi-aquatic species of turtle, were found in baskets in the luggage of two Indian nationals, said the Royal Malaysian Customs Department on Wednesday (Jun 26).
Some of the reptiles died on the journey, although a large number survived.
The suspects, aged 30 and 42, had arrived from Guangzhou, China last Thursday. They have since been arrested.
“We believe the tortoises are not for local market but KLIA2 was used as a transit before the tortoises are to be brought to India," said Central Zone Customs assistant director-general Zulkurnain Mohamed Yusuf.
He added that the turtles were worth RM52,550 (US$12,669).
"This is the first such case of the year, and we are unable to state whether it involves a similar quantity or more (when compared to previous cases). But it appears to be quite a large quantity in two suitcases found at the same time."
Malaysia is a major transit point for wildlife trade to other Asian countries.
Red-eared sliders are the most popular turtle in the pet trade and are considered an invasive species in a number of habitats, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
While they are not an endangered species and are commonly traded, permits are required to import them into Malaysia.
The suspects did not have the correct documents, and face up to five years in jail and a fine if convicted.
Kanitha Krishnasamy, regional director of the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, called the case "bizarre" as trade in the terrapins is legal.
"What is clear is how crazy the pet trade has become," she said.
Customs officials have in the past seized animal parts at Kuala Lumpur airport, but it is unusual for them to find a huge stash of live creatures.