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Fifteen endangered tortoises worth up to £4,500 have been discovered by UK Border Agency officers at Stansted Airport after a passenger tried to smuggle them into the country.
On Sunday 8 May, a 54-year-old woman from Plymouth was arrested when she returned from Morocco following a holiday.
The spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca) were found still alive, but underweight and infested with tics, in three cardboard boxes that had been placed in a bag in the hold of the aircraft.
The woman was released on bail while UK Border Agency enquiries continue.
Malcolm Bragg, UK Border Agency Assistant Director of Criminal and Financial Investigations, said: "The illicit trade in endangered animals is a serious contributory factor to the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species.
"This seizure demonstrates the UK Border Agency takes its role in enforcing international agreements and prohibitions designed to protect the natural environment very seriously."
Further inquiries by UK Border Agency officers revealed the tortoises did not have the necessary accompanying paperwork and permits.
The tortoises have survived their ordeal and are currently being cared for in quarantine while plans are drawn up for them to be re-housed.