CHENNAI:After yet another young man from Chennai was caught trying to smuggle star tortoises to Malaysia – a bid eerily similar to the one foiled last Thursday – the Forest Department has decided to get to the bottom of it. Suspecting the hand of a larger gang smuggling these tortoises to Malaysia and beyond, they have begun interrogating the arrested men to establish if there is any link.
“We are getting to the root of it. We are confident that we will trace them and stop this racket within 15 days,” said a forest department official, involved in the investigation.
On Wednesday, Saddam Hussain (25), a resident of Tondiarpet was scheduled to fly on a Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur, departing at 11.30 AM.
While checking his baggage in, a CISF staff noticed small objects moving inside and after alerting Customs officers found 41 star tortoises inside. An earlier smuggling bid on July 2, when 64 tortoises were found in a passenger’s luggage was also on the same airline to the same destination.
“I have kept the accused here with us to continue the interrogation to catch the entire gang. The link between both men has not been established yet, but we are working on it,” said the official.
There are usually 10-12 seizures every year where protected animals are found in passengers’ bags, satchels and even belts which are then handed over to the forest department, with the majority of the seizures being star tortoises, followed by sea-horses.
The tortoises are found in India and Sri Lanka in large numbers and are smuggled to countries where there is great demand for them as pets and even consumed for their medicinal properties.
“There is a huge profit margin there for these tortoises that is why they keep trying to smuggle them every time,” said S Davidraj, Forest Range Officer.
Star tortoises are protected under the Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act enacted in 1972.
MONEY SPINNERS: The pattern on the tortoises shells are their most attractive trait. They are sold for almost 10 times the value in the international market
SMUGGLING ROUTE: The major smuggling points for star tortoises are from Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and coastal Tamil Nadu
LOADED LUGGAGE: Star tortoises can be kept in confined places like suitcases and taken for long journeys without any harm done to them for up to 4-6 hours