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1899 turtles seized, 4 held

Turtles in crates being ferried along with fish were seized from a truck and two men arrested near Dhulagarh early on Saturday.

By Subhajoy Roy
  • Published 27.05.18
  •  
The seized consignment of Indian softshell turtles at the forest department's animal rescue centre in Salt Lake on Saturday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Salt Lake: Turtles in crates being ferried along with fish were seized from a truck and two men arrested near Dhulagarh early on Saturday.

Forest officials said the crates had 1,799 turtles, the highest rescued so far in a single day in the past five years.

Earlier in the day, forest officials seized 100 turtles from Birati and arrested two men.

Turtle meat is a delicacy and many people eat it despite a legal ban on killing the animal, a forest official said.

A turtle is sold at Rs 700-1,500 depending on the demand.

"The rescued turtles were Indian softshell turtles that are protected under Schedule I of the wildlife protection act," Subhendu Sinha, a range officer of the state forest department, said.

Sinha was part of the team that raided the truck. "Killing, hunting or selling turtles is illegal. Those found guilty of doing so can be jailed for a minimum of five years," he said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Indian softshell turtle as "vulnerable" in its Red List of of threatened species.

The wildlife crime control bureau of the central government and the CID accompanied the forest department officials in the raid.

The raiding team stopped the truck near the toll tax plaza in Dhulagarh.

The truck that was seized in Dhulagarh with 1,799 turtles in crates

"Crates containing fish were kept over the crates containing the turtles," a forest official said.

The turtles are of varying sizes. At least 700 had died because of improper transportation, a CID officer said. The truck driver and his helper were arrested on the spot.

Around the same time, another team waiting near BT College in Birati seized another consignment.

"We saw two men getting off a bus with heavy bags. They tried to put the bags in a waiting motor van," the forest official said.

As team members started running towards the vehicle, the van sped away leaving behind the two men with their bags.

"Four men were arrested from two places. They have been booked under the wildlife protection act," another forest official said.

The men have told forest officials that the turtles were headed to markets in South and North 24-Parganas, the official claimed.

"The Indian softshell turtle is used for its meat. And it is in high demand," Agni Mitra, deputy regional director of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, an agency under the ministry of environment and forests, said.

The IUCN website says the turtle is "considered endangered in Bangladesh and vulnerable in India, its main range state".

Mitra said Saturday's seizure was the highest in a single day in the past five years.

The turtles that survived were kept at the forest department's animal rescue centre in Salt Lake. "We will look after their health for a few days before releasing them in the wild. We will keep some for display at the zoo," the forest official said.