The smugglers were stopped by the country's coastguard off Johor, a state in southern Malaysia physically linked to Singapore by causeways. It has not been disclosed whether the smugglers are Malaysian nationals.
"Seven packages containing about 3,300 turtles were believed to be… brought in to be sold in the country," Senior Coastguard Commander Mohammad Othman told Channel News Asia in a statement. The pig-nosed turtles, which have since been handed over to Malaysian wildlife officials, are estimated to be worth around $37,000.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), pig-nosed turtles, which are distinguishable by their porcine snouts, are classified as "endangered." The species is commonly found in northern Australia and southern New Guinea and is highly desired in Singapore and China, where specimens are commonly sold as exotic pets.
A 2014 report by TRAFFIC, also known as the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, states that as many as 2 million pig-nosed turtle eggs are being collected in the wild annually and smuggled to China and Hong Kong, where they are most likely ground up and used in traditional medicine.
At the time, Chris Shepherd, regional director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, recommended "monitoring ports such as Agats, Merauke, Timika, Jayapura and Jakarta, and increasing enforcement at international points of the trade chain in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong."
According to Malaysian Customs Department Director Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy, Malaysia is a wildlife-smuggling transit point in Southeast Asia.
"We believe they were brought into the country to be sold as exotic pets," a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency spokesperson told Free Malaysia Today.