PETALING JAYA - They were destined to be sold to keen buyers.
But thanks to the Wildlife Crime Unit, over 1,000 endangered and exotic turtles were rescued from their captors and will be shipped back to their country of origin soon.
The animals are now under the protection of the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) after being smuggled into the country by air in luggage bags.
They were kept in a rented house awaiting orders - made online -before they were supposed to be shipped out by syndicate members with wide international links.
Sources said buyers, both Malaysians and foreigners, were willing to pay between RM300 (S$100.31) and RM1,000 each for the reptiles to be kept as pets.
The unit has been monitoring the syndicate and its online transactions for several months before moving in to nab the culprits.
The raid resulted in the arrest of four Indian nationals, aged between 32 and 39, and the seizure of the reptiles worth about RM600,000.
In announcing the success, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said it was the biggest seizure of exotic turtles and tortoises by Perhilitan in recent years.
"The suspects will be investigated under Section 68 of the Wildlife Protection Act 2010 for keeping wildlife without any proper documentation," he said, adding that Perhilitan was tracking down other syndicate members.
The offence carries a jail term of up to three years, a maximum fine of RM100,000 or both upon conviction.
During Monday's 7pm raid at a house in Taman Aman here, two suspects were detained while 1,011 Indian Star tortoises and 23 Indian Roofed turtles were rescued.
Some of the reptiles were ready to be shipped out via air and placed inside luggage bags.
In a follow-up raid at a budget hotel in Jalan Tun Perak, Kuala Lumpur early yesterday, two more suspects were detained.
This time, enforcement officers found 36 Black Pond turtles stuffed inside four bags, awaiting transportation out of the country.
A special permit is required to keep these exotic reptiles.
A Google search showed that the Indian Roofed turtle is a popular victim of illegal wildlife trade because of its oddly-shaped shell and tiger-patterned belly.
The Indian Star tortoise is popular as a pet and a spiritual symbol, largely because of its striking shell that has a star-like radiating pattern of yellow and black.
These tortoises command premium prices in international market and their high sale value in South-East Asian markets also makes them a top-traded species.
According to wildlife monitoring group Traffic, the Black Pond turtle is facing extinction as demand for it as an exotic pet booms.
This relatively rare species can only be found in rivers in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan and regarded as one of the most attractive turtles because of its spotted skin and boldly patterned shell.
Both the Indian Star tortoise and Black Pond turtles are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning that international trade in these species is prohibited.