KUALA KRAI- More than 1,000 tortoises bound for the dinner table in restaurants in Thailand were rescued by the Kelantan Anti-Smuggling Unit officers here.
Kelantan National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department director Mohammad Khairi Ahmad said officers based in Pengkalan Kubor near the Malaysia-Thai border had received a tip-off and followed a lorry that was heading to the border check-point.
He added that the officers had tailed the lorry from Kampung Bunut Susu, Pasir Mas until Kampung Derdap at 6pm on Saturday.
The driver, who realised that he was being followed, stopped the lorry and jumped into Sungai Golok before escaping to Thailand.
"Our officers found fish containers inside the lorry. But buried under the containers were 160 plastic containers filled with 1,290 Asian Box turtles.
"The tortoises are believed to be worth about RM200,000 (S$77,630). This is the largest seizure of a protected species so far this year," he told a press conference yesterday.
Mohammad Khairi said the tortoises are protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.
"We believe that the tortoises are destined to restaurants that serve exotic food that are much sought after in Thailand," he added.
He added that the tortoises would be kept for investigations until the next course of action.
"We believe that a syndicate with expertise in cross-border illegal trade is behind the smuggling attempt," he said.