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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Rare tortoises escape hand-luggage hell
Vigilant Indian airport officials have found nearly 1,000 endangered star tortoises crammed into three pieces of hand luggage aboard a flight to Singapore.

Star tortoise
Star tortoises are a delicacy in the far-east

They believe the 960 rare animals were destined to become delicacies served up by restaurants in the far-east.

Airport officials acting on a tip-off discovered the tortoises in the overhead locker of a plane that was about to leave the southern Indian city of Madras.

Two Indian men were arrested for attempting to smuggle the rare species out of the country.

Starry humps

According to wildlife warden K. Reddy, the men confessed to having caught the tortoises in forests in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Mr Reddy said the tortoises could be expected to fetch a million Indian rupees, or roughly 22,000 US dollars, amongst far-eastern consumers who value them as culinary delicacies and household pets.

He said over 2,100 star tortoises had been seized at Madras airport during the previous month and four arrests had been made.

The animals, which are indigenous to India, are protected by international conventions against hunting endangered species.

They get their name from the star-like patterns on the pyramidal humps along their shell.

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