CHENNAI: A gang involved in smuggling star tortoise, a rare and endangered species of land tortoise, was busted by sleuths of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and State Forest Protection Squad with the seizure of more than 2,500 of the species from a house in Avadi.
The DRI said that on Monday a joint operation by the State Forest Department and DRI sleuths led to the seizure of 2,515 star tortoises, worth `25 lakh in the international market, from a residence of one person in Avadi. It was found during the probe that the person along with two others, who were residents of Avadi and Ennore, illegally procured the endangered species from several parts of the country and smuggled out to countries like Sri Lanka, the DRI stated.
The person, whose identity was not disclosed by the DRI, had said that 10,000 star tortoises, covered under Schedule IV of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and by Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), had been smuggled through the southern coast of Tamil Nadu, preferably Rameswaram. The value of those smuggled tortoises could be `1 crore.
The DRI sources said the mastermind of the illegal trade was absconding. Star tortoise smuggling is linked to illicit pet trade, and one specimen can fetch a good sum in the international market.
During the seizure, the tortoises, most of them juveniles, were found to have been transported in cramped condition. The forest protection squad sent the tortoises to Arignar Anna Zological Park, Vandalur for rehabilitation.
The Indian star tortoises are rare and endangered species of land tortoise and are often poached from the wild and sold internationally to be used as pets and also as ingredients of Chinese medicine.