A seized endangered ploughshare tortoise is seen inside a bag at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Malaysian custom officials have foiled an attempt to smuggle hundreds of the world's most endangered tortoises into the country from Madagascar, according to international media reports.

The 330 ploughshare and radiated tortoises seized at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Sunday were worth $276,784 (Dh1.017 million), Abdul Wahid Sulong, deputy director of the customs department told AFP.

All of the reptiles, which arrived at KLIA on an Etihad Airways flight from Antananarivo airport in Madagascar were found alive, he added.

"It is a big haul. It could be for the local market or for re-export. We are investigating," the enforcement agency said in a statement to AFP.

"Based on public tip-off, customs officials raided the cargo area of the airport and found five suspicious crates," the statement added.

Abdul Wahid said the contents of the crates were labelled as stones and the address of the recipient was found to be false.

Malaysia bans the import of critically endangered animals. Anyone found guilty of the offence can be jailed for up to three years and fined. 

When contacted by Gulf News, an Etihad Airways spokesperson said in a statement that the airline will cooperate with the concerned authorities and provide any information that may assist the investigation of the incident.

“Etihad Airways’ Animal Welfare and Conservation Policy outlines the company’s commitment against the unlawful transportation of endangered and threatened species and overall animal welfare as covered under CITES.

“In this specific incident, an attempt to illegally transport tortoises was made as part of a shipment that originated from another carrier during transit at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

“Etihad Airways will cooperate with the concerned authorities and provide any information that may assist the investigation of the incident.”

The statement further explained that Etihad adheres to strict international practices for uplifting cargo or shipment, and works closely with customs and immigration authorities and national security organisations across its network, using Regulated Agents that are approved by local authorities.

“Incorrect declaration of shipment is a breach of trust, and any passenger or cargo agents found to be illegally transporting live animals, or restricted animal-related products or endangered species, will be immediately referred to the local authorities,” said the Abu-Dhabi based airline.