"Ninja Turtle Gang" members arrested, 200 smuggled reptiles seized

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Chinese man accused of smuggling turtles to his Hong Kong home

Chinese man accused of smuggling turtles to his Hong Kong home 01:30

Malaysian authorities have arrested six members of an international crime ring known as the "Ninja Turtle Gang" and seized about 200 smuggled tortoises and turtles, a wildlife official said Tuesday.

Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, director-general of Malaysia's wildlife and national parks department, said four Cambodians and two Malaysians were arrested during a July 2 raid on a house in Kuala Lumpur by police and wildlife officials.

He told AFP some 200 turtles and tortoises worth an estimated $52,300 were rescued during the raid, the second seizure in Malaysia in less than a week.

Many people across Asia believe turtles and tortoises bring good luck and prosperity.

Abdul Kadir said the six arrested belong to the "Ninja Turtle Gang," an international crime ring involved in smuggling reptiles.

Police and wildlife officials rescued 400 tortoises during an initial raid on June 29 that were meant for sale in Southeast Asia and were worth $805,084 on the black market.

Animals rescued in the latest raid included the critically endangered Chinese striped-necked turtle, which is also known as the golden thread turtle, Abdul Kadir said. The Chinese striped-neck turtle is native to China, Taiwan, Laos and Vietnam, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"This species is popular in the pet trade both within and outside the native range, and it has a history of being used as a food source and in traditional medicine," the agency says.

Other species included the endangered black pond turtle, snapping turtle, sulcata tortoise, leopard tortoise and the red-footed tortoise found throughout South America and the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Barbados.

FRANCE-ENVIRONMENT-NATURE This photograph taken on November 18, 2021, shows a leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki) at "La ferme tropicale" in Paris. JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Leopard tortoises are native to the dry savannahs of central and southern Africa, according to the Maryland Zoo, which houses them.

"Historically, they also have been heavily exploited by the pet trade," the zoo says. "They are hunted and consumed locally for food."

Also discovered were three snakes, four softshell turtles, skink, a type of lizard and five frogs.

"Initial investigations revealed that the reptiles were smuggled from abroad to meet the lucrative pet market," Abdul Kadir said.

The rescued animals were being kept in a Malaysian wildlife department quarantine center.

The reptiles are illegally brought into Malaysia by road or in suitcases by smugglers aboard commercial flights, Abdul Kadir said last week.

Traffic, a wildlife NGO, has said that Southeast Asian countries "function as source, consumer and as entrepots for wildlife originating from within the region as well as the rest of the world."

Between June 2017 and December 2018, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation found that more than 1,500 native turtles — including wood turtles, spotted turtles and eastern box turtles — traveled from the U.S. to Asia.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a man for allegedly trafficking turtles from California to his home in Hong Kong. 

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