Airport security has uncovered bizarre items in recent years, but none quite tip the Oddities Scale as a trove of 1,500 turtles and tortoises discovered in items of luggage at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the Philippines.
The four suitcases snagged by authorities contained several protected species of turtle. The animals had been bound with duct tape and squeezed between layers of clothes. Miraculously, they were also still alive at the time of discovery.
The luggage carrying the turtles had apparently been transported to the airport by a Filipino national coming into the country from Hong Kong.
Smithsonian Magazine reports that tortoises and turtles comprise a significant part of the illegal wildlife trafficking business. The meat and body parts from the animals are considered delicacies in some regions of Asia. They are also regarded as valuable pets.
In 2018, a Wildlife Justice Commission report cited by Smithsonian indicated that tortoises and turtles were being trafficked throughout parts of Asia, helped along by “organized corruption of officials at airports and transport hubs.”
As a two-year probe into the matter unfolded, investigators were reportedly offered in excess of 20,000 freshwater tortoises and turtles, many of which were described as "critically endangered".
There have been other seizures of wildlife that have served to underscore the breadth of the issue. Last year, officials in Madagascar came across 10,000 radiated tortoises, a severely endangered species desired by some for its finely patterned shell, stuffed into a single domicile. It was thought the animals were being prepared for smuggling purposes, since Madagascar is the only place in the world where they are known to live.
The turtles found at Aquino were valued at $87,000.