In one of the biggest hauls in the State, Forest officials in association with police have busted an inter-state turtle smuggling racket and seized 122 animals of the endangered species. Two persons were also arrested in this connection.
In fact, the racket was accidentally exposed at Bhubaneswar railway station when the ticket collector in the Howrah-bound Puri Jagannath Express caught one Durga Shankar Manna of East Midnapore in West Bengal for travelling in the reserved compartment without a valid ticket late on Monday night.
Manna had two gunny bags which aroused suspicion due to the movements within as well as the smell emanating from them. He was detained by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and a search yielded 81 Indian softshell turtles. The species is considered among the most endangered and included in the Schedule-I category of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Acting on the information, a team of Forest officials including Range Officer of Mancheswar Range Ashok Mishra and honorary wildlife warden, Khurda, Suvendu Mallik rushed to the station and took over the case.
“The turtles were of varied shapes and ages, ranging from very young weighing only around 250 gm to ones having grown to over 2 kg,” Mallik said.Manna, who was arrested by the Forest department, reportedly confessed to have picked the consignment from an alleged hunter Gandua in Maharipokhari village near Sakhigopal. He had boarded the train from Birapurushottampur station. On the basis of his statement, the team raided the house of Gandua and recovered 41 more turtles, concealed in the soft soil inside the compound. Gandua was also arrested.
Range Officer Mishra said the turtles are in high demand in West Bengal for their succulent meat. They are sold at very high prices.
The Indian softshell turtle is a freshwater species found in rivers and most abundant during the rainy season. Apart from the rivers, the turtles are also caught from the ponds and wells as they swim along with the overflowing water.“It appears that the turtles had been collected over a few days. Manna has admitted to have been in regular contact with Gandua and this was his third consignment this year,” Mishra said.
Both have been booked under Sections 9 and 39 of Wildlife Protection Act.