Malaysian customs patrol foiled a plot to smuggle hundreds of tortoises worth more than $250,000 into the country, officials said.
The shipment of some 330 ploughshare and radiated tortoises, both critically endangered species, originated in Madagascar. Both species of tortoise are native to Madagascar, and it remains unclear whether the tortoises were intended for sale in the Malaysian market or elsewhere.
Customs officials found the tortoises alive in their crates, and the entire shipment had an estimated value of 214,000 pounds sterling, or approximately $276,784, Agence-France Presse reported.
"It is a big haul. It could be for the local market or for re-export. We are investigating," the law enforcement agency said in a statement.
There is a vast market for the tortoises as both illegal pets and as meat. Smuggling endangered animals is illegal under Malaysian law and can carry penalties of fines as well as up to three years in prison, Sky News reported.