KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian wildlife authorities have seized hundreds of cobras and turtles being smuggled out of the country in a shipment of papayas, headed for cooking pots in the region, according to an official.
Jamalun Nasir Ibrahim, head of the wildlife and national parks department on Penang island told AFP authorities raided a container being driven into the state's air cargo complex early Thursday after hearing "hissing noises".
"The 4am raid at the cargo complex netted some 555 cobras and 171 turtles and according to the manifest, these animals, which were hidden among papayas from northern Kedah state, were being shipped to Hong Kong," he said.
"If they had succeeded, the snakes and turtles would likely have gone to dining tables across the region," Jamalun added.
He said that the driver of the container had been arrested and that investigations were ongoing.
Jamalun said the monocled cobras could each fetch 200 to 800 ringgit ($65 to $260) while the giant Asian pond turtles would likely sell for 200 ringgit. All the animals were alive when seized and would be sent to a nearby zoo.
He said a license and a certificate of origin was needed to export or trade in both species as they were listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Despite efforts by Southeast Asian authorities to crack down on animal smuggling, the practice still persists in the region, posing a threat to endangered species, activists say.
Last October, authorities seized nearly 450 protected snakes and turtles -- many already dead -- following a raid on a house in Kedah state.
Malaysia has pledged to fight wildlife smuggling, which activists say is rampant due to regional demand for exotic dishes, pets, or traditional medicines derived from animals. AGENCIES