The smuggler, named only as Mr Li, was stopped at China’s Guangzhou’s international airport.
An X-ray machine detected unusual “protrusions” poking out from a burger bun inside his luggage bag and inspectors asked to take a closer look.
Airport staff determined that the protrusions looked like turtle limbs.
He denied repeated requests to allow them open his luggage by shouting: “There’s no turtle in there, just a hamburger. There’s nothing special to see inside.”
“Sir, are you sure there are no turtles in your bag?” one agent inquired, according to a report in the Guangzhou Daily.
Finally he allowed them unzip his bag and security retrieved the turtle which was hidden inside a burger bun smeared with mayonnaise.
Asked what he had been thinking, Mr Li said he could not stand to be apart from his “beloved” turtle and wanted it to go on his travels with him.
Mr Li, who was about to board a flight to Beijing, was told he could not bring the turtle on board and was persuaded to leave it in the care of a friend.
Chinese micro-bloggers logged on to express concern for the four-legged creature. “That poor turtle,” wrote one. “It had to absorb all those X-rays!”
China strengthened air security in 2008 after it foiled an alleged attempt to deliberately crash a plane flying to Beijing from Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang.