KUALA KRAI: The Kelantan Anti-Smuggling Unit intercepted and seized a lorry laden with 1,290 tortoises on Saturday at Kampung Derdap, Tumpat, headed for restaurants in Thailand serving exotic food.
Kelantan National Park and Wildlife Conservation Department director Mohammad Khairi Ahmad said the Unit based in Pengkalan Kubor had tracked the lorry until it reached the border checkpoint in Pengkalan Kubor.
"Based on a public tip-off, the Unit trailed the lorry from Kampung Bunut Susu, Pasir Mas until Kampung Derdap at 6pm. The driver of the lorry abandoned the vehicle after he realised he was being trailed.
"The suspect ran towards Sungai Golok and jumped into the river and escaped into Thailand," he told reporters at a press conference held at the Department's office here on Monday.
Mohammad Khairi added that upon inspection, the tortoises believed to be worth at least RM200,000 were found hidden in 160 plastic containers buried under fish containers.
"This is the biggest haul of a protected species from illegal traffickers so far this year.
"We believed they were destined to restaurants serving exotic food in Thailand, which are highly sought-after.
"The tortoises will be kept by the Department for safekeeping until we decide what to do with it," he said, adding that a well-organised syndicate was believed to be responsible for the cross-border smuggling attempt.
He said the tortoises (Amboina box turtle) were a protected species under the First Schedule of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.