For some people, the fact that an animal is exotic or endangered only makes the prospect of exploiting them more exciting. While trophy hunters pay outrageous fees to hunt animals on the brink of extinction, others seek to keep rare animals as pets, or even to eat the creatures or grind them up to make traditional medicine. To procure these exotic pets, consumers must rely on smugglers who acquire the animals for the illegal animal pet trade.

The exotic animal market took a big blow this week when over 1,500 live exotic turtles were rescued from an airport in The Philippines. The animals were found wrapped in duct tape and stuffed into suitcases by customs officials. The fortunate reptiles were almost certainly on the way to their deaths, as turtles are common ingredients in folk medicine.

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The animals had been smuggled aboard a plane from Hong Kong, and were discovered in four unclaimed pieces of luggage at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. Three of the species discovered — the star, redfoot and African spurred tortoises — have been classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

While the penalties for trafficking endangered animals in both Hong Kong and the Philippines are stiff, smugglers have plenty of incentive to risk. The reptiles in question would have fetched a hefty price on the black market, having an estimated worth of 4.5 million Philippine pesos ($87,000), according to the Bureau of Customs agency’s Facebook post.

According to the Philippine Bureau of Customs agency, the smugglers may have been scared off by security.  “The passenger may have been informed of the vigilance of Bureau of Customs against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties,” the agency said, explaining why the luggage may have been left unattended. “Earlier this year, 63 Iguanas, Chameleon and Bearded Dragons were also intercepted through the efforts of vigilant frontliners and operatives of Customs,” they added.

Pretty sweet news for these sweet little turtles. While plenty of animal smuggling avoids detection, this story goes to show that sometimes the good guys (and gals) really to save the day. Even better, stories like this can make smugglers everywhere feel a but more ‘shell-shocked,’ with even more proof their efforts can go up in smoke in the blink of an eye.

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