Manila: Customs officers here foiled an attempt by a passenger to smuggle into the country more than 1,500 live turtles, officials said.
Carmelita Talusan, district collector at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), said a passenger from Hong Kong brought into the country 1,529 live exotic turtles on March 3 at the NAIA Terminal 2, in suburban Pasay City.
“The passenger, for some reason, abandoned several pieces of luggage containing the live exotic turtles at the airport after arriving abroad flight PR 311 from Hong Kong,” she said.
What the law says
Illegal wildlife trading is a violation of RA 10863 the Wildlife Resources Conversation and Protection Act.
Tulusan said X-ray screeners were alerted after movement was detected inside the baggages.
There is a high demand for turtles as exotic pets, and they are valued for their meat and for use in traditional medicine in some Asian countries.
According to a Facebook post of the official page of The Bureau of Customs NAIA, the turtles have been transferred to a monitoring unit for safekeeping.
The detailed post read: “Customs NAIA continues to stop illegal wildlife smuggling... apprehends 4.5 million pesos (nearly Dh319,000) worth of 1,529 live exotic turtles from Hong Kong... turned over to Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit (DENR-WTMU) on March 3, 2019 at the NAIA Terminal 2, Pasay City.
The turtles were restrained by duct tape and were stashed in several shoe boxes, apparently to make it appear that the illicit package were part of smuggler’s personal effects, she said.
Among the exotic reptiles hidden in the stash were specimens of the Sulcata Tortoise, Redfoot Tortoise, Hermann’s Tortoise, Indian Tortoise and Mata Mata turtle.
All these are not endemic to the Philippines and wildlife smugglers sell them to pet shops.
Sulcata Tortoise, which is from Africa, can weigh up to 100 pounds and live up to 100 years.
Redfoot Tortoise are popular as pets but are also prone to becoming extinct. Hermann’s Tortoise are from Europe.
The Indian Tortoise on the other hand, are considered as “threatened species.”
The Mata-Mata Turtle is prized because of its thorny profile that gives it the appearance of fallen leaves in the wild.
Tulusan said the combined cost of the wildlife stash is estimated to be around P 4.5 million (Dhs 319,232).
She said the turtles had been turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Dr. Rogelio Demelletes, an official of the DENR Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit, said the smuggler, if found, could face one to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to P1 million (Dhs 70,940).
According to a report entitled: “Flying Under the Radar: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector,” wildlife traffickers around the world are taking advantage of the air transport sector in smuggling protected and endangered animals aboard commercial flights.