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Smuggling Endangered Animals To Malaysia Continues (Photos)

A reported 330 endangered tortoises were saved from being traded on the black market.

On May 14, Malaysian customs agents were tipped off that a cargo container needed to be assessed. Under five layers cardboard cartons labeled "stones," a heavy suitcase lay hidden that, upon further investigation, contained hundreds of endangered tortoises packed between white cloth to prevent their shells from rattling against each other, The Dodo reported.

Richard Thomas, the global communications coordinator for wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC, added, "It's not uncommon for tortoises literally to have their limbs taped with masking tape or similar to prevent them moving about and thus drawing attention to themselves while in transit."

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The luggage was filled with five ploughshare tortoises and 325 radiated tortoises, which are listed as critically endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN).

Most of the crammed-in animals survived the journey and are currently being held in a sanctuary until they are safe to be released in Madagascar.

The luggage is said to have come via Etihad Airways from Antanaviro Airport in Madagascar, Deputy Customs Director Abdul Wahid Sulong said, ABC News reported.

Keeping tortoises as pets or using them for traditional medicinal practices are reportedly popular trends in Malaysia.

While investigations are ongoing, no arrests have been made. And under Malaysian law, if someone is found guilty of importing a critically endangered species, they can be jailed for up to three years, Sky News added.

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This new upset comes during a series of attempts to smuggle critically endangered animals into Southeast Asia.

In one instance, on May 8, Malaysian airport customs found $2.1 million worth of African pangolin scales hidden in an airport cargo warehouse.

On April 10, the same customs network intercepted an attempt to smuggle 18 rhino horns, which were reportedly worth up to $3.1 million.

The 330 tortoises were projected to be worth nearly $300,000.

TRAFFIC has commended Malaysia's dedication to preventing such smuggling from taking place but has expressed its concerns regarding other countries.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior program manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, said: "It’s worrying that shipments headed for Southeast Asia from Africa via the Middle East are only detected in the [delivery] region -- it clearly points towards the need for greater scrutiny at airports both at points of origin and at transit points such as Doha [Qatar], Dubai [United Arab Emirates] and Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates]."

Sources: ABC News, Sky News, The Dodo / Photo credit: Bernard Dupont via Wikimedia Commons, TRAFFIC via The Dodo

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