CHENNAI: A 25-year-old man was arrested when he tried to fly out of the city to Colombo on Monday with 25 kg of rare conch shells.
Guards manning a baggage scanner in the airport were taken aback when they opened two odd-shaped bags. On inspection, the guards found several conch shells in three large polythene vacuum-sealed bags. The shells weighed about 25kg.
Fidel Kanagarathinam, who was booked to fly to Colombo by an Air India flight AI 273, claimed that he was taking the shells for his cousins.
As the shells were larger than the ones they were accustomed to seeing, they knew right away that it was illegal, said the guards. “We immediately notified the forest department. But it took a while to find out where the man got it from and where it was headed,” said an official from the Air Intelligence Unit of Airport Customs.
Fidel was detained through the day and interrogated. Officials said he had a local address in Thanjavur and brought the shells from Ramanathapuram or some other coastal region. After much checking, the shells were handed over to the forest department around 10 pm, on Monday.
After examining the shells, Forest Range Officer S Davidraj identified the shells as Horse Conches (Triplofusus giganteus), a species indigenous to waters around Florida. It is a controlled product restricted to be imported under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, he added. Horse conches house snails that are predatory gastropods, living on ocean floors, making them among the most intricate in structure.
It is extremely popular among shell collectors as the shell can reach sizes of 24 inches and have up to 10 whorls, “He must have been taking it to Sri Lanka to sell as ornaments. These shells can fetch a good price as they are rare in these parts,” added a forest department official.