Video: 170 rare baby tortoises seized at Paris airport

Customs officials found the tortoises wrapped in sticky tape in a hidden compartment

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French customs officials in Paris were left rather shell-shocked in December when they came across 170 endangered baby tortoises hidden in a crate at Charles de Gaulle airport.

The "radiated tortoise" species is only found in Madagascar and their eye-catching shells are much prized by collectors. The 170 baby tortoises were on a flight bound for Laos and were wrapped in sticky tape and hidden in the secret compartment of a crate carrying sea cucumbers.

Unfortunately, since they were discovered by officials, 15 of the babies have died since customs officials found the reptiles on December 14. Officials said they had died due to the "unsuitable conditions of transport". The remaining baby tortoises are now at the Tortoise Village in France's Var region.

Bernard Devaux, the director of the Tortoise Village, told AFP: "We put them in a warm place and cleaned them with disinfectant.

"They didn't have enough water but they should be rehydrated slowly to avoid a new shock." He described the baby tortoises as "magnificent but very fragile, each one has a different shell pattern."

He said that this particular species of tortoise was considered one of the most beautiful on the planet.

"You see them sold for US$10,000 in New York or Tokyo and pressure is increasing as rich Chinese get involved," said Devaux. "They represent too much money. They are beautiful so they are hunted. Maybe it would be better if they were ugly."