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A home for the slow, steady and starred

- Wildlife Trust of India team to search origin of star tortoises seized in Nagaland

Jorhat, Aug. 3: The Wildlife Trust of India has the daunting task of finding the home of 62 star tortoises that were seized at Dimapur railway station last month.

A team from the WTI will collect blood and tissue samples of the tortoises, now kept at the zoo in Dimapur to ascertain their place of origin.

“The blood and tissue samples are necessary to ascertain the location from where these tortoises originated. By ascertaining to which sub-species they belong, we can subsequently release these tortoises in the particular location or at least near it,” N.V.K. Ashraf, the chief of conservation of WTI, told The Telegraph today.

Ashraf said the Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a species found in dry forest areas in the northwest and southeastern regions of the country and is quite popular in exotic pet trade across the world.

“Thanks to the distinctively-marked and highly-rounded shell, this species has become popular in the world’s pet trade,” he said.

Indian star tortoises are medium sized, with the average adult rarely growing to more than 30cm in length.

The trade in star tortoises has been banned under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild fauna and flora. The species is also protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which bans its possession and trade.

The consignment of 62 tortoises was found concealed under fruits in two crates parcelled from New Delhi on July 12.

Sources said one of the tortoises managed to sneak out of the packet, which attracted the attention of railway officials. Subsequently, the wildlife crime control bureau seized the two packets.

The principal chief conservator of forests, Nagaland, M. Lokeswara Rao, said all the 62 tortoises were alive and being kept at a special enclosure at Nagaland zoological park.

He said WTI had sought permission from the forest department to collect blood and tissue samples of the tortoises to ascertain the location from where they originated.

“We have given them permission,” he said.

He said this was the first time that star tortoises, which are found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, were seized in Nagaland.

Rao said a telephone number and an address were mentioned in the two packets but there was no reply on the particular telephone number.

“The address was also fake,” he added.

An official of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau told The Telegraph that the haul has established the fact that Dimapur is used as a transit route to smuggle star tortoises to Southeast Asian countries.

“The porous international border in Manipur is being used to smuggle these star tortoises. We are probing the incident,” he said.

The ministry of home affairs has said the porosity of the 1,643km India-Myanmar border facilitates cross-border movement of militants, illegal arms and drugs. “The border (Indo-Myanmar) permits free movement regime up to 16km across the border. This makes the International border extremely porous. The border runs along hilly and inhospitable terrain, which grossly lacks basic infrastructure and provides cover to the activities of various insurgent groups and smugglers,” a ministry of home affairs report had said recently.


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