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Malaysia rescues hundreds of tortoises from ‘Ninja Turtle Gang’

By AFP - Jul 06,2024 - Last updated at Jul 06,2024

A member of the Royal Malaysian Customs holds seized red-eared slider tortoises during a press conference at the customs authorities building in Sepang on June 26, 2019 after a foiled smuggling attempt by a syndicate (AFP photo)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian authorities have rescued hundreds of smuggled tortoises meant for sale in Southeast Asia, disrupting an international crime ring called the “Ninja Turtle Gang”, a wildlife official said on Thursday.

Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, wildlife and national parks department director-general, said 400 tortoises worth 3.8 million ringgit ($805,084) bound for the lucrative exotic pet trade were seized during an operation by the police and wildlife officials on Saturday.

Across Asia, many believe that tortoises bring good luck and prosperity.

“This is the biggest ever seizure in the past 10 years,” Abdul Kadir told AFP, adding that the reptiles were to be sold on to Thailand and Indonesia after local demand was met.

He said the tortoises were believed to have been smuggled from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The joint operation, codenamed “United National Resource”, crippled the tortoise smuggling ring known as the “Ninja Turtle Gang”, he said.

The operation involved a car chase in which the driver of a vehicle thought to be used in the smuggling was arrested.

The driver subsequently led the enforcement officers to a location where rare three-keeled land turtles and Indian star tortoises were being kept.

Commercial trade in the Indian star tortoise was banned in 2019.

“The strategic location of Malaysia in Southeast Asia makes the country a hub for the smuggling of these exotic species,” Abdul Kadir said.

The tortoises are illegally brought into Malaysia by road or in suitcases by smugglers aboard commercial flights, he said.

Traffic, a wildlife NGO, has previously said that Southeast Asian countries “function as source, consumer and as entrepots for wildlife originating from within the region as well as the rest of the world”.

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