IN 2018, Border Force officers at Bristol Airport rescued three tortoises which passengers attempted to smuggle into the UK concealed in cigarette packages.

The discovery was made on August 28 after a family of six people arrived in Bristol on a flight from Tunisia.

A baggage search revealed three tortoises concealed in separate suitcases which had been in the baggage hold.

Each tortoise was found underneath layers of clothing inside cigarette packets containing single lettuce leaves.

At the time, the Home Office confirmed to the Weston Mercury that no family members were charged over the incident.

Border Force officers contacted the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) team which confirmed the animals were controlled under CITES and required the correct permits to be imported legally.

Weston Mercury: No family members were charged.No family members were charged. (Image: Home Office)Border Force officers arranged for the animals to be transported to a separate facility where they will be cared for appropriately.

Speaking in 2018, Peter Jones, assistant director for Border Force Bristol, said: “Clearly, transporting animals in such a way and without the correct paperwork is not acceptable.

“Rules are in place for reasons of animal welfare and thanks to the intervention of our officers, these tortoises can now be properly cared for.

Weston Mercury: The incident happened in August 2018.The incident happened in August 2018. (Image: Home Office)

“This should serve as a warning to anyone thinking about transporting wildlife in such conditions.”

The RSPCA had condemned the family’s actions, since tortoises have ‘specific requirements’ and should be cared for in the appropriate manner.

Its spokesperson had said: “Reptiles have specific requirements and need a controlled environment, tortoises smuggled illegally into the country in this way are very likely to have suffered.

“The needs of exotic animals can be challenging to meet by members of the public because they are fundamentally linked to certain behaviours, diets or environmental conditions which can be difficult to replicate in a home.

“We urge anyone thinking about getting an exotic pet to thoroughly research the animal’s needs and what is needed to care for them properly, using expert sources and only consider keeping one if they can ensure they are fully able to provide for these needs.”