CHENNAI: Customs officials seized 490 Indian Star Tortoises hidden in two thermocol boxes at Chennai Harbour, which were believed to be smuggled to Kualalumpur in Malaysia. Working on a tip-off from police that abandoned thermocol boxes containing the tortoises were likely to be smuggled out of the country, customs officials found the boxes at Kasimedu harbour.
Officials believed that the tortoises were to be smuggled through air cargo, Chennai in the guise of Mud Crab through Thai Air Cargo and were destined for Kuala Lumpur. Interestingly, the police who were on a wild chase of two suspected ganja peddlers, found the thermocol boxes abandoned. The two jumped into sea and escaped.
Police investigation revealed that the tortoises had been smuggled from Andhra Pradesh. The police later informed customs officials who conducted probe. Star Tortoises, protected under Schedule IV of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, were to have been sent from Nagapattinam.
A customs release said the tortoises are traded for food, used in traditional medicines and also kept as exotic pets. They are in great demand in international market and command premium prices. Consumer demand is growing among middle-classes of countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Malaysia is a major hub of growing illegal wildlife trade as the country’s law does not allow effective implementation of the CITES.