MANILA • More than 1,500 live exotic turtles - some restrained with duct tape - have been found inside an airline passenger's luggage, the Philippine authorities said, as they vowed a crackdown on the lucrative wildlife trade.
The turtles and tortoises were found at Manila's airport on Sunday in the luggage of a Filipino passenger, who had arrived from Hong Kong, hidden among clothes and shoes. The person fled before the authorities could confront him.
"We saw the images from the X-ray (machine)," Manila airport Customs chief Carmelita Talusan said on Monday.
"We never expected it would reach as many as 1,530," Ms Talusan said. "Our staff were taking care not to hurt them because duct tape was used to immobilise the turtles."
She said the authorities had identified the passenger, who could face charges over violating the illegal wildlife trading law, which carries a maximum of two years in prison.
The turtles are said to be worth about 4.5 million pesos (S$117,300).
Among the animals found were the Indian star tortoises, classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The turtles were likely to be sold in the Philippines or smuggled to other countries, environment officials said. Environment undersecretary Benny Antiporda said: "It's for business purposes. Those turtles are expensive. It's such a lucrative business. There are buyers and collectors who treat them as pets."
He added that the Philippines would ask the Chinese authorities if they want to take back the turtles.
The Philippines is a major source and transit point of wildlife trafficking, according to a report by the US State Department last year.
Last month, more than 50 iguanas were discovered in the luggage of a passenger from Bangkok.