VIJAYAWADA: Sleuths of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized as many as 406 alive Indian star tortoises from two women passengers at Vijayawada railway station on Tuesday morning. The women were allegedly trying to smuggle the tortoises from Kadiri to Bangladesh via Bhubaneswar.
Based on a tip-off that Indian star tortoises - a vulnerable and endangered species mentioned in Schedule IV of Wild Life Protection Act - 1972, were being illegally transported out of India, DRI sleuths launched an operation at around 7 in the morning and intercepted the two women passengers travelling in Vivek Express at Vijayawada station. On searching the four bags belonging to these women, DRI officials found that they were transporing the reptiles and had covered them with clothes and other items.
On questioning, they admitted that the tortoises of different sizes were collected by a person from Kadiri and they were asked to take them to Bhubaneswar and hand it over to some person, who would then export it to Bangladesh. “The forest officials, who also participated in the search operation, confirmed that they are Indian star tortoises and stated their zoological name to be geochelone elegans,” said a DRI official.
Meanwhile, the tortoises were handed over to the Vijayawada Forest Range Officer for safe custody. “Export of star tortoises is banned as they are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. Two persons involved in the illegal transport have been apprehended. Further investigation is in progress,” the DRI official told.
It is believed that the Indian Star Tortoises are being exported to other countries via Bangaldesh and Sri Lanka as they have huge demand in international market.According to Forest Department officials, the seized 406 tortoises are worth `1 crore in the open market and were reportedly procured from Palamaner forest area. Smugglers earlier used to raise tortoises in captivity and later found collecting them from the wild was the most viable option. The demand for the Indian Star Tortoises increased when people started rearing them as pets,” said a forest department official.