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Turtles seized on smuggling route

Some of the seized Indian Softshell Turtles. (Bhabatosh Chakraborty)

Around 5,000 endangered turtles were rescued while being smuggled to Bangladesh on Monday.

A team of forest department officials and cops seized the Indian Softshell Turtles, packed in boxes along with fish, from two lorries at Kalupur in North 24-Parganas, around 12km from the Bangladesh border.

Three persons have been arrested under the Indian Wildlife Act, 1972. If convicted, they can be imprisoned for up to three years.

An officer said the lorries were intercepted following a tip-off.

“The turtles were packed in boxes. The smugglers had kept some fish on top of the turtles in each box in an attempt to avoid suspicion,” said Bikash Ranjan Chakraborty, the divisional forest officer of North 24-Parganas.

This is the first time such a huge consignment of endangered turtles has been seized in the state. According to an estimate, the consignment is worth Rs 50 lakh in the grey market.

Officials said 207 of the turtles were dead. “They probably died because of rough handling,” said an official.

Indian Softshell Turtles, found in rivers of South Asia, are listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Act. “The species has been kept under Schedule I because poaching and river pollution are threatening their existence,” said Chakraborty.

Also under Schedule I are the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Swamp Deer.

Indian Softshell Turtles are in demand for being meatier compared with other species of turtles. Illegal trade in Indian Softshell Turtles and sea turtles, like Olive Ridley, is rampant in the coastal belt of the region.

Officials of the forest and wildlife departments have seized many endangered animals and exotic birds in the city over the past few months, prompting law-enforcement agencies to suspect that the state is being used as a transit hub for smuggling rare species.

Nearly 200 endangered birds were seized in September while they were being taken to a market on Galiff Street in north Calcutta for sale.

Last month, officers of the customs and the wildlife department seized three chimpanzees, five marmosets and 250 birds from a house in Baguiati in North 24-Parganas.