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Rats on a plane! (And crocs, turtles on another)

Image: A Thai Customs official holds a confiscated Indian Roofed Turtle
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. Rungroj Yongrit / EPA
/ Source: news services

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.

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.

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

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.