Customs officers yesterday found 185 baby tortoises wrapped in plastic and packed in a suitcase that was being sent from the Galápagos Islands to Ecuador.
Ten of the baby reptiles had died. Most were less than three months old.
The smuggling operation has been prompted by demand from animal collectors and exotic pet markets, where hatchings can fetch up to $5,000 (£3,600) each.
The baby tortoises were wrapped in plastic to immobilise them but were discovered by x-ray at the airport.
The suitcase was said to contain "souvenirs", an airport spokesman said.
Ecuador's environment minister, Marcelo Mata, described the incident as a crime against the country's wild fauna and natural heritage.
Galápagos giant tortoises are thought to have arrived on the volcanic islands between three and four million years ago.
The sentence for smuggling animals from the Galápagos is one to three years in prison.