Two Egyptian men who stuffed 128 tortoises into stockings to import them into Hong Kong told a court they did so to protect the rare creatures from political turmoil in their country.
Abdelaziz Mahmoud Abdelaziz Tolba, 56, and Sameh Amer Abdelhalim Tolba, 32, were each fined and given a suspended two-month jail term by Tsuen Wan Court after pleading guilty to importing endangered species and cruelty to animals.
Magistrate Joseph To Ho-shing said he believed there was a "commercial value" for the pair in the offence, but accepted that their aim was to "increase the numbers of the tortoises".
The pair's counsel, David Boyton, said Abdelaziz was concerned by political developments in his strife-torn country and wanted to take the spider tortoises and radiated tortoises to Taipei for breeding. Both are listed as endangered in Hong Kong.
The court heard that the two landed on a flight from Doha, Qatar, on January 16. They entered the "nothing to declare" channel at customs, but were stopped by officers for a search.
In their suitcases, the officers discovered 128 live tortoises, stuffed head-to-tail into knotted stockings. The pair had no valid documents for the animals, which had a market value of HK$320,400. The pair said stockings were used to transport tortoises in Egypt, and that the animals were given enough food and water for three days before being checked in as luggage.
The pair each admitted one charge of cruelty to animals. Abdelaziz also admitted one charge of importing a rare species and was fined HK$40,000. Sameh admitted two import offences and was fined HK$45,000. Their two-month jail sentences were suspended for 18 months.
Boyton said the pair had no idea importing the animals was illegal, and both were remorseful.
Egypt has been embroiled in years of violence and political upheaval since 2011's Arab spring.