Philippine customs officials received a shock when they opened four suitcases that had been left behind in the arrivals area at Manila's airport.

Inside were over 1500 turtles of various exotic types, including Star Tortoises, Redfoot Tortoises, Sulcata Tortoises, and Red-eared Slider Turtles. Some were wrapped in duct tape and others mixed in with other luggage items, including shoes, clothing and cookies.

The luggage was left by a Filipino passenger arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on a Philippine Airlines flight from Hong Kong, Customs officials said in a statement.

Customs NAIA intensifies efforts against illegal wildlife smuggling

#BalitangCustoms Bureau of Customs NAIA turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) - Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit (DENR-WTMU) 1,529 live exotic turtles on 3 March 2019 at the NAIA Terminal 2, Pasay City. The confiscated turtles (Star Tortoise, Redfoot Tortoise, Sulcata Tortoise, Red-eared Slider live species ) were found inside the left-behind luggage of a certain arriving Filipino passenger from flight number PR 311 Hong Kong.

Posted by Bureau of Customs PH on Monday, 4 March 2019

The 1529 turtles were turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Unit, the statement said.

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While it wasn't clear why the turtles were abandoned at the airport, the customs bureau speculated on the reason: "The passenger may have been informed of the vigilance of the port against illegal wildlife trade and its penalties."

Convictions for the illegal trading of wildlife are punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine of up to 200,000 pesos ($3,861).

The BBC reported that turtles and tortoises were often kept as exotic pets, but were also used in traditional medicine or served as a delicacy across parts of Asia.

"Their meat is considered by some to be an aphrodisiac, while the bones are powdered for use in medicine," it noted.

In 2018, Philippine authorities turned over to the DENR a total of 560 wildlife and endangered species, including 250 geckos and 254 corals smuggled through air parcels, baggage and shipments, according to the statement.

- AP with staff writers