Customs officials found the live tortoises stuffed in the suitcases of Habeeb (48), who had arrived in Chennai by an early morning flight from Malaysia. Customs officials intercepted Habeeb when he was coming out of the customs clearance area and interrogated him. He later admitted to have carried the live cargo. Customs officials said as per the Animal Quarantine rules, live cargo are not to be allowed to land in the country and should be deported.
“So we deported the live cargo back to Malaysia in the 11 am flight,” a customs official said. The reverse smuggling is a rare occurrence at Chennai airport. Normally, customs officials come across attempts to smuggle green turtles and star tortoises from Chennai to countries like China, Thailand and Malaysia, as they are considered a delicacy in these countries. There are also people who rear them as pets. However, wildlife sources told DTNext that most of the smuggling of star tortoises is being done to cater to the restaurant business in these countries. The smuggled turtles and tortoises command a good rate in those markets, which is one of the reasons for the numerous attempts to smuggle them from the state, said sources.