Malaysian authorities have successfully rescued hundreds of smuggled tortoises intended for sale in Southeast Asia, dismantling an international criminal organization known as the 'Ninja Turtle Gang', according to a wildlife official on Thursday.

Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, the director-general of the wildlife and national parks department, revealed that 400 tortoises valued at 3.8 million ringgit ($805,084) were confiscated during a joint operation by the police and wildlife officials on Saturday. These tortoises were destined for the high-profit exotic pet trade. In many parts of Asia, there is a widespread belief that tortoises bring good fortune and prosperity.

'This marks the largest seizure in the last decade,' Abdul Kadir informed AFP, noting that the reptiles were planned to be resold to Thailand and Indonesia once local demand was satisfied. He also mentioned that the tortoises were likely smuggled from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The coordinated operation, dubbed 'United National Resource', effectively dismantled the tortoise smuggling ring known as the 'Ninja Turtle Gang'. The operation included a high-speed car chase where the driver of a suspected smuggling vehicle was apprehended. This driver then led enforcement officers to a site where rare three-keeled land turtles and Indian star tortoises were being held.

The commercial trade of the Indian star tortoise was prohibited in 2019. 'Malaysia's strategic position in Southeast Asia makes it a hub for the illegal smuggling of these exotic species,' Abdul Kadir stated. He explained that tortoises are illicitly transported into Malaysia via road or concealed in suitcases by smugglers on commercial flights.

Traffic, a wildlife NGO, has previously highlighted that Southeast Asian countries serve as sources, consumers, and transit points for wildlife originating both within the region and globally.