updated 3/7/2007 10:46:50 AM ET 2007-03-07T15:46:50

Workers at a Malaysian airport cargo complex found 2,400 snakes of a protected species in crates bound for Hong Kong sent by smugglers in Thailand, news reports said Wednesday.

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The banded rat snake — rarely found in Malaysia and protected under local laws and international wildlife treaties — is an expensive delicacy in some Asian countries, the New Straits Times and The Star reported.

Workers handling cargo at the complex near the Bayan Lepas International Airport in Penang grew suspicious when they heard hissing and "slithering sounds," the Times reported, and alerted wildlife officials.

The officials found the snakes, worth an estimated $68,400 on the market, tied up in plastic sacks in a total of 86 crates, the Times added.

The fate of the snakes was unclear in the reports. Phone calls to the wildlife department office in Penang went unanswered Wednesday morning.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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