185 baby tortoises wrapped in plastic seized from smugglers

The discovery of 185 baby tortoises that were wrapped in plastic and packed inside a suitcase at an airport in Ecuador has alarmed environmentalists.

The tortoises were being sent from the Galápagos Islands to the mainland on Sunday. They were found during a routine inspection at the main airport on the island of Baltra.

Ten of them had died, officials said. The tortoises seized at the airport on Baltra are thought to be less than three months old.

One of the biggest threats to Galápagos tortoises is illegal trading for animal collectors and exotic pet markets.

Officials combatting wildlife trafficking say hatchling-sized juveniles can fetch sums of more than $5,000 (£3,600) per animal.

It is believed the smugglers wrapped the tortoises in plastic to immobilise them but the X-ray machine’s operator at the airport nevertheless grew suspicious.

According to a statement from the airport, the suitcase had been posted at the airport by a transport firm and was said to contain “souvenirs”.

No arrests have been made so far but employees of the transport firm who had checked in the suitcase were held for questioning, according to the statement.