Malaysian Customs Officials Seize Over 5000 Turtles From Just 2 Passengers

When searching the luggage of two Indian nationals arriving from Guangzhou, China, on AirAsia flight number AK 117 on Monday, June 20th, customs officers were in for a surprise. Inside the men’s luggage, they discovered 5,255 baby red-eared slider turtles.

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Smugglers fly over 5,000 turtles from China to KLIA. Photo: AirAsia

When asked why they were traveling with so many turtles without a permit, the men aged 42 and 30 said they were taking them to India. According to the two men, they were expecting to sell the reptiles as pets and make around $12,000 USD for the terrapins.

Animal smugglers use Malaysia as a hub

Malaysia has a bit of a reputation as being a hub country for animal smugglers in Asia and has now woken up to the fact that something needed to be done.

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The turtle smugglers were using KLIA as a hub on their way to India. Photo: FlightAware

The Malaysian government has cracked down by imposing hefty fines and prison sentences for anyone caught transporting animals without a licence.

While speaking at a press conference attended by the BBC, senior Malaysian customs official, Zulkurnain Mohamed Yusof said that the two men would have to pay a fine and could face up to five years in prison.

“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,” said Mr Yusof.

He added, “they could now face up to five years in prison and a fine”.

Red-eared sliders are the world’s most commonly traded reptiles due to their small size and ease of care. Following the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1990s, the fictional anthropomorphic turtles started a craze in the UK that had everyone wanting to keep terrapins as pets.

Red-eared slider turtles aren’t just cute, they have been responsible for deadly salmonella outbreaks all over the world.

Red-eared sliders are an invasive species

Allison Begley of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks told Newsweek magazine that this particular type of turtle is one of the most invasive species on the planet saying: “They’re omnivores, they will eat anything, and they adapt to any habitat.”

A red-eared slider turtle
Red-eared slider turtles are a problem in Queensland, Australia. Photo: Mark Finlay/Flickr

In places like Queensland, Australia, they are considered to be a threat to native Australian species of turtles. Once mature, red-eared slider turtles become aggressive and out-compete native species of turtles for food and space. They have become such a problem in Queensland, that the local authorities have spent $700,000 on trying to eradicate the invasive newcomers.

Drugs also found on the same day

Separately to the turtle incident, in Malaysia customs officials intercepted 14.34kg of methamphetamine worth 717,000 Ringgit ($172,500). The drugs were concealed in hidden compartments.

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KL Airport is cracking down on smugglers. Photo: Wikipedia

Again both men were Indian and had arrived on separate flights from Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Malaysia has one of the world’s toughest laws against drug smuggling, which could now see the men, both aged 30, face the death penalty according to the Bangkok Post.