Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 19:32 UK

Suspected tortoise-smugglers held

Two tortoises in a gloved hand
The tortoises can fetch as much as 100 on the black market, police said

Two suspected tortoise-smugglers have been arrested at an airport in Essex after police found seven of the creatures hidden in their luggage.

A 41-year-old man and a 42-year-old woman were detained at Stansted after police were tipped off by the RSPCA.

The couple's home in Walthamstow, east London, was raided later and more of the animals were found, police said.

The couple, who flew in from Corfu, were detained under laws protecting endangered species and animal welfare.

Police officers were waiting for couple as they got off the plane from Corfu, where tortoises are found in the wild.

When tortoises are smuggled in this way they suffer quite a lot
Pc Andy Long

Three tortoises were found in their hand luggage and when police searched the couple's belongings, they found four others in their suitcases wrapped in socks.

"You can tell when an animal is unhappy just by looking at it and that one looked miserable," said Pc Andy Long, wildlife crime co-ordinator for Essex Police.

"It has been known for people to bring them back in order to pay for their holiday.

"They can sell them on for as much as £50 to £100 on the black market.

"When tortoises are smuggled in this way they suffer quite a lot and it would not be unusual for them to deteriorate and die."

Police are questioning the couple.

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