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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai customs has found 451 turtles worth 1 million baht ($33,000) stashed in suitcases offloaded from a passenger flight from Bangladesh, the latest seizure of live creatures at Bangkok's bustling Suvarnabhumi airport.
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 tip off 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.
They 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.
Reporting by Sinthana Kosolpradit; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Elaine Lies