Airport authorities in Bangkok Feb. 9 stopped a man attempting to board a plane with some unusual luggage in tow — three suitcases stuffed full of live animals. 

The bags were crammed with pythons, boa constrictors, squirrels, spiders, lizards, frogs, a parrot and more than 100 tortoises — including one of the world's rarest, a ploughshare tortoise. The species is critically endangered. Only about 200 adult ploughshare tortoises are thought to still be alive on the planet, according to 2008 estimates.

Agents first became suspicious when the 34-year-old Indonesian man's bags went through the usual airport screening process. Scans of the bags revealed images of what looked like wild animals inside.

Airport workers alerted authorities from the country's conservation department, who detained the man and searched his bags, revealing an elaborately packed menagerie apparently freshly purchased at Bangkok's Chatuchak Market, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away.

The suspect, now in police custody, was on his way home to Surabaya in Indonesia when his illegal haul was discovered.

"It speaks well of a few alert enforcement authorities when such seizures happen. The Airport Authority is to be commended," said William Schaedla, regional director of TRAFFIC, an international organization that tracks the illicit trade of animals around the globe.

"However, one really has to question how Chatuchak Market, which is located just down the street from both Wildlife Protection and Nature Crime Police Offices, can continue these illegal mass sales," Schaedla said. "Frankly, the situation is totally unacceptable in a country that claims to be effectively addressing illegal wildlife trade."

Luggage for smuggling animals

The suspect's three suitcases, specially altered to fit his squirrely stash. (Photo: TRAFFIC)

The suspect fit an impressive array of beasts inside his bags. The cache included 88 Indian star tortoises, 33 elongated tortoises, seven radiated tortoises, three Aldabra tortoises (one of the world's largest species), the ploughshare tortoise, an array of turtles and frogs, 34 ball pythons, two boa constrictors, several other species of snakes, 19 bearded dragons, six additional lizards, 18 baboon spiders (a venomous variety of large, hairy tarantula, each of which was packed in its own plastic container), 22 common squirrels and one African Grey Parrot.

Chatuchak, the market where the man admitted to purchasing his live stash, is a major trade hub for some of the world's rarest species. Despite numerous reports to the authorities, illegal trade continues every weekend on an open basis.

This isn't the first time would-be passengers at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport have tried to bring live beasts on board planes. In August 2010, a woman was caught attempting to smuggle a live tiger cub in her suitcase.