New Delhi: Over 2,000 Indian star tortoises being smuggled to Thailand were seized by the Chennai airport customs authorities Monday.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and airport customs authorities said the seized tortoises have been handed over to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department for rehabilitation, ANI reported.
The star tortoise, set apart by the intricate pattern on its shell and favoured as a pet in some countries, is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, and listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an agreement between governments that aims to ensure the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.
Appendix I of CITES lists “species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants”. “They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research,” it adds.
In a press release issued Tuesday, the commissioner of customs for Chennai Air Cargo said the export consignment that contained the tortoises was intercepted at Meenambakkam air cargo shed on the basis of intelligence.
“As per the shipping bill, the items were declared as 250 kg of live mud crab and it was found that 10 out of 15 packages had a total of 2,247 live Indian star tortoises,” the release said. “Investigation on the smuggling bid is on.”
‘Loved as a pet’
Speaking to ThePrint, Tamil Nadu principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj said “attempts to smuggle tortoises have been going on for a very long time, especially to Southeast Asian countries”.
“A lot of measures are being taken up by the customs authorities to stop this but the demand is so high and ever rising that it could never be completely stopped,” he added.
“Despite all international regulations, star tortoises continue to be smuggled due to extremely high demand,” Niraj said.
The chief wildlife warden said Indian star tortoises are smuggled to be kept as pets. In countries like China and Japan, it is believed to be lucky to have the endangered animal in the house, he added.
“This animal is loved as a pet across the world, across Southeast Asia, North America, all of the Western countries,” Niraj added.
On rehabilitation, the principal chief conservator of forests said the animals have been kept in quarantine, under strict supervision. “Their body measurements are being taken and we will send them for genetic profiling, so that we can know from where exactly they were taken and which population they belong to,” he said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)