Video: Turtles, alligators found smuggled in luggage

Image: A Thai customs official holds a confiscated turtle
Rungroj Yongrit  /  EPA
A Thai customs official holds a confiscated turtle during a press conference in Bangkok on Thursday. About $33,000 worth of animals were seized after authorities received a tipoff that a known trafficker was on his way to Thailand.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/2/2011 12:11:12 PM ET 2011-06-02T16:11:12

A flight crew checking the cabin of a Qantas plane before takeoff found rats in a compartment holding medical equipment, grounding the plane for more than a day.

Crews did a visual check of the plane Tuesday afternoon and found no more rats or any damage.

The rodents had been in a cabinet holding a defibrillator. The plane returned to service Thursday morning, officials said.

Passengers had not yet boarded the Sydney-to-Brisbane flight and were instead put on another plane.

A Qantas spokeswoman called the incident "very unusual."

Meanwhile, Thai customs officials found 431 turtles and seven freshwater crocodiles stashed in suitcases offloaded from a passenger flight from Bangladesh.

The animals seized at Bangkok's bustling Suvarnabhumi airport were worth 1 million baht ($33,000), authorities said.

Turtles of varying sizes worth around 2,000 baht apiece in Thai markets, and seven false gavials, a type of freshwater crocodile worth 10,000 baht each, were found on Thursday in small bags packed into cases after authorities received a tipoff that a known trafficker was on his way to Thailand.

The alleged trafficker, a Bangladeshi national, did not collect the luggage and fled on arrival in Bangkok, customs officials said.

Story: Baby leopards, bear found in bags at Thailand airport

The discovery was the biggest since September last year, when 1,140 turtles were found by customs on a single day. A further 218 were seized a month later.

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Thailand, which borders four countries, has seen its fair share of illegal wildlife trafficking and customs officials at Suvarnabhumi often seize reptiles and small animals in luggage.

Endangered species
They found a two-month old tiger cub in a bag last August, which was concealed by stuffed tiger toys and bound for Iran.

Story: Illegal 'zoo' in 3 suitcases gets man arrested

Prasong Poontaneat, director-general of Thailand's customs department, said it was likely the turtles were destined for Bangkok's Chatujak Market, a sprawling mass of 11,000 stalls and shops that has a dedicated pet section where endangered species are sometimes sold.

The market, which operates on weekends only, generates as much as 1 billion baht ($33 million) a month from some 350,000 foreign and local shoppers, according to the State Railway of Thailand, which owns the land.

Although Thailand has been at the forefront of a regional effort to combat wildlife trafficking, the country's multiple airports, sea ports and road network make it a major transit point for other destinations.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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