Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — An endangered red panda has been found alongside 86 other animals inside luggage at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand’s Customs Department said in a statement Wednesday.

The red panda was one of 87 animals found in the luggage of six Indian nationals who have been arrested for “trying to smuggle live animals out of the country,” the Thai Customs Department said. The suspected smugglers – and the animals – were headed for Mumbai, India, the department added.

In addition to the discovery of the red panda on Monday, Thailand’s Customs Department said that it had found a cotton-top tamarin monkey, a fishing cat and a Sulawesi bear cuscus in the suspected smugglers’ suitcases.

Lizards, snakes, birds, squirrels and bats were also amongst the animals discovered, the customs department said.

Images released alongside the Thai Customs Department’s statement show animals stowed in wicker baskets, plastic tubs and fabric bags inside large wheeled suitcases. The suitcases were intended to be loaded onto an airplane, the statement alleged.

According to the Thai Customs Department, the individuals suspected of smuggling the animals violated several laws, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates the international trade of wild species of plants and animals.

The suspects are also accused of attempting to export live animals without declaring them and violating animal disease control laws, the customs department said.

A 2018 report by TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organization that campaigns against the “illegal and unsustainable trade in wild species,” found that there were 1,346 seizures of wildlife and wildlife products in the air transport sector between 2009 and 2016.

This form of wildlife trafficking took place in 136 countries’ airports between 2009 and 2017, the report said, with Thailand reporting the second highest number of these incidents in the world.

‘Growing fad’ of exotic pets

Kanitha Krishnasamy, director of TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia office, said in a statement to CNN Thursday that the organization has seen a “very active and persistent level of trafficking of live animals between Southeast Asia and South Asia.”

Krishnasamy said that this includes a “string of cases of live wild animal smuggling via air” between Thailand and India in recent years, with “busts taking place in both countries since early 2022.”

Krishnasamy suggested that the increase in attempted wildlife trafficking into India is due to a “growing fad” of exotic pets, including kangaroos, cuscus and red pandas.

“We need to get to the bottom of the market in India,” Krishnasamy said. “A robust understanding of the contemporary pet market is needed to guide future interventions, including on strengthened regulation and reducing demand.”

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