CHENNAI: In a major seizure, the customs and wildlife crime control bureau on Thursday night seized 500 star turtles at the Chennai airport that was being smuggled to Malaysia in a Thai Airways flight. The cute little star turtles, known for its beautiful ornate design on the shell, is one of the most common targets for smugglers due to its high demand as a pet and medical purposes across the world.
The Thai Airways officials grew suspicious when they found something suspicious moving inside the thermocol boxes that were to be uploaded as cargo in the flight. They alerted the customs, who opened the boxes and found nearly 500 star turtles bundled in cloth bags. The wildlife crime control bureau officials also confirmed that they are star tortoise, whose export is banned. In each of the cloth bag, about ten tortoise were bundled and they were placed inside the thermocol boxes.
The exporter, identified as Cosmic Exports with office at Ambattur in Chennai, had declared that the consignment contains crab. The export company's owner has been identified as one Rajavelan and further investigations are on if the company was involved in the smuggling or some other middlemen were involved. An airport source said the under the Risk Management System, a few of the parcels meant for export would go unchecked and this is how the consignment containing the start turtles had made its way up to the air craft.
The value of the 500 turtles is estimated to be around Rs 50 lakh in international market. According to sections 9, 38 and 48A of Wildlife Protection Act 1972 the export of the star turtle is illegal. Sources in the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau said nearly 10 such seizures of star turtle being exported to other countries are seized in south India. The officials are now facing a challenge on where to preserve the star turtle as the Vandalur zoo or the forest department does not have facility for it.