According to the Royal Malaysian Customs Department, the 5,225 red-eared sliders were found in the luggage of two Indian citizens, aged 30 and 42. They had arrived in Malaysia from Guangzhou, China, last week. They have since been arrested and could be hit with fines and face up to five years in jail.
“We believe the tortoises are not for local market but KLIA2 was used as a transit before the tortoises are to be brought to India," Zulkurnain Mohamed Yusuf, the Central Zone Customs assistant director-general, told Channel News Asia. The turtles are worth roughly $12,669.
"This is the first such case of the year, and we are unable to state whether it involves a similar quantity or more (when compared to previous cases). But it appears to be quite a large quantity in two suitcases found at the same time,” Yusuf added.
Although some of the reptiles died during transit, many of them did survive the journey.
According to Seneca Park Zoo, the red-eared slider gets its name from its red stripe, which extends from behind the eyes all the way to the neck. They are not an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Although they are frequently traded, permits are required for the turtles' importation into Malaysia.
Kanitha Krishnasamy, regional director of the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, said the case is "bizarre" because terrapin trade is legal. "What is clear is how crazy the pet trade has become," the director told Channel News Asia.