Endangered tortoises have been discovered as they were being smuggled into the UK through a Sussex port.

The two juvenile spur-thighed tortoises survived the 2,000-mile road trip inside a cardboard box before being discovered in the back of a van at Newhaven.

The man, who attempted to smuggle the animals to an address in London via Dieppe, told officials he was unaware of licensing restrictions on importing the creatures into the UK.

The tortoises, both around three inches long, were seized by Border Force officers on November 17 under EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which gives the tortoises the highest level of protection for a wildlife species within the EU.

The importation of tortoises is restricted under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and they can only be brought into the UK if the correct permits have been issued.

No proper paperwork or permits were found in this case.

Tortoise smuggling is one of the five CITES priorities for Border Force, and they are offered the same level of protection within Europe as the giant panda or Bengal tiger.

Andy Lumb, of Border Force, said: “This illicit trade is a serious contributory factor to the threat of extinction faced by many endangered species.

“Border Force is cracking down on all types of smuggling, including live animals.

“There is a complete ban on bringing live animals into the UK unless you have the necessary permit.”

The tortoises are now being cared for while plans are drawn up to rehouse them.

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