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Thank God, it’s not turtle soup

- Giridih mishap kills a few, saves many; but smugglers flee

Hazaribagh, Feb. 4: A head-on collision between a pickup van and autorickshaw in Giridih was instrumental in saving 1,100 Indian softshell turtles classified vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The turtles, Nilssonia gangetica, which were released today across 11 reservoirs including the scenic Khandoli, had been found packed in 22 jute bags when the accident occurred in Nimiyaghat, Dugdugia, 54km from district headquarters on the night of February 2.

Those in the pickup van (UP-4GT/2905) fled after the mishap, leaving the jute bags that villagers said they were too scared to touch. Police early on Sunday morning seized the bags and found 1,250 turtles, 150 dead.

Preliminary investigation revealed that the freshwater turtles — noticeable for their distinctive shells — were caught from Uttar Pradesh and were on their way to Calcutta from where they would have been smuggled to Southeast Asian countries that prize their tender meat.

Nimiyaghat police immediately informed forest department officials in Giridih. This afternoon, district forest officer (DFO) Smita Pankaj supervised the release of the 1,100 turtles in Khandoli and 10 other nearby reservoirs in Giridih.

“Illegal sale of turtles involves big money and a well-oiled machinery. It is a huge racket. Turtle meat and soup are delicacies in some parts of Asia,” DFO Pankaj told The Telegraph.

Initially, forest officials decided to release all the turtles in Khandoli reservoir, a popular tourist spot in Giridih, but the large numbers compelled them to hunt other habitats nearby.

Nimiyaghat police station officer-in-charge Ranjeet Roshan said this was one of their rarest finds.

“The cost of this consignment of turtles runs in lakhs of rupees. The pickup van started from an Uttar Pradesh district. The vehicle was bound for Calcutta from where the turtles would then have been smuggled China, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and others. We have lodged an FIR and a probe is on to trace the gang involved,” Roshan added.


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