Johannesburg - Around 1600 neglected reptiles and amphibians were rescued from OR Tambo International Airport, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) said on Friday.

The animals were discovered during a routine inspection inside the airport's cargo building on Wednesday, NSPCA spokeswoman Ainsley Hay said.

“The consignment, bound for the USA from Madagascar, was left unattended to in the cargo area when flights to the USA were cancelled,” she said.

“The bad smell coming from the sealed animal crates indicated that many of the reptiles were dead or dying and in need of urgent assistance.”

The consignment - which included geckos, frogs, chameleons, skinks, lizards and toads - was taken to the Johannesburg Zoo for treatment and care.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo managing director Bulumko Nelana said over 360 of the animals had since died due to dehydration, kidney failure, cannibalism and infections.

Hay said the animals had been tied up in small muslin bags or put into two small plastic tubs about five days before being discovered.

“Many animals could not move or turn around in their containers. None had been provided with water, which caused extreme dehydration in the surviving animals.”

The animals had been caught in the wild for the exotic pet trade.

Hay said it was concerning that these animals were seen as commodities without concern for their welfare.

“People who have exotic animals as pets must realise that they are causing this cruelty. Without the demand for these animals as pets, there would be no market and these animals would not be stolen from the wild.”

Nelana said the zoo would continue to look after the animals until a new home was found.

“The well-being of the animals is a high priority and (they) are being closely monitored by veterinarians at the Joburg Zoo's in-house hospital.”