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Hundreds of rare tortoises smuggled in airport bags

Protective custody: The tortoises were found wrapped in duct tape PICTURE: UNIVERSAL NEWS

AIRPORT staff rescued 1,529 live tortoises and terrapins that were stashed inside a smuggler’s luggage.

The exotic collection, worth more than £65,000 on the illegal wildlife market, was found taped and spread across four bags owned by a passenger travelling from the Philippines to Hong Kong.

Tiny cargo: Some could fit on a hand PICTURE: GETTY

Among the species were star, redfoot and sulcata tortoises as well as red-eared terrapins. They were discovered after the bags were X-rayed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and turned over to the country’s wildlife traffic monitoring unit.

Open and shut case: The animals were stashed across four bags PICTURE: UNIVERSAL NEWS

The Filipino traveller, who owned the bags, left them unclaimed in the arrivals area but could face a prison sentence of up to two years or a fine of up to £3,000. Last year, the airport discovered 560 items being smuggled for the illegal wildlife trade, including 250 geckos and 254 pieces of coral smuggled in parcels, baggage and in shipments.

Also rescued at the airport so far this year have been 63 iguanas, chameleons and bearded dragons.