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Smuggled in Suitcases, 8,000 Pig-Nosed Turtles Rescued in Indonesia

Jan 10, 2014 12:27 PM EST

More than 8,000 baby pig-nosed turtles being smuggled out of Indonesia were intercepted this week by officials, according to an AFP report.

The turtles were found hidden in suitcases thought to be destined for Singapore and China, where the reptiles are sold as exotic pets and occasionally end up in food markets.

Friday officials at Jakarta's main airport discovered nearly 3,000 of the turtles in four suitcases after being told to be on the lookout for turtle smuggling. Thursday officials in Papua, one of the few places in the world where pig-nosed turtles occur naturally, found a cache of about 5,400 of the turtles hidden in seven suitcases, the AFP reported.

The suitcases contained plastic boxes, each containing 15-20 turtles. All of the living turtles were collected and will be released back into their natural habitat in Papua. At least 14 of the turtles were dead when officials found them, according to the AFP.

The pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) is classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which reports that the species is only found in Papua New Guinea, northern Australia and Indonesia's Papua region.

The IUCN states that the species is exported in large numbers as part of the international live animal trade. "It is heavily exploited and locally consumed in Papua New Guinea and endangered by habitat loss and degradation in Australia," the IUCN said of the major threats to the pig-nosed turtle.

According to, the population of Indonesia's pig-nosed turtles has fallen by 50 percent in the last three decades, adding that 11,000 of the reptiles were illegally transported out of Indonesia last year.

Smuggling turtles out of Indonesia carries a penalty of as many as 3 years in prison and fines of up to 150 million rupiah (about $12,300), according to the Jakarta Post.

However, the payoff for a successful smuggling operation may be too tempting for some to pass by.

A 15-centimeter specimen can sell for $20 and juvenile and adult pig-nosed turtles can fetch between $500 and $2,000, according to the Jakarta Post.

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