Officers stopped the man and opened his luggage to find a 2-year-old male orangutan sleeping inside a rattan basket.
Customs officers also found allergy pills in the passenger’s luggage, as well as two geckos and five lizards. All the animals were alive.
Orangutans are a protected species that face threats from deforestation and poaching. They are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Zhestkov could face up to five years in prison and $7,000 in fines if convicted for smuggling.
He had fed the orangutan allergy pills mixed with milk, causing the animal to lose consciousness for up to three hours.
He told officials he planned to readminister the drugs during a transit in South Korea.
The Russian tourist packed baby formula and blankets for the orangutan, adding that he “seemed prepared, like he was transporting a baby.” The orangutan was gifted by a friend who had bought the primate for $3,000 from a street market.
He claimed his friend, also Russian, had convinced him he could bring the orangutan to Russia as a pet.