In a major bust, officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized 1,125 star tortoises that were being smuggled to Bangladesh, at the Visakahapatnam Railway Station in Andhra Pradesh.
According to media reports, the DRI's Zonal unit in Hyderabad received a tip off, following which the Visakhapatnam Regional Unit carried out the search.
The tortoises were found in the possession of three people who were travelling aboard the Yesvantpur-Howrah Express. The accused told investigators that the tortoises were originally from Madanapalle in Andhra. The reptiles were being smuggled in cloth bags and were handed over to officials of the Forest Department after being rescued.
‚ÄúThe three passengers have admitted that they were given the tortoises by a person at Chelur near Balegowdanahalli village in Karnataka saying that he had collected the species from Madanapalle in Chittoor district. The person told the passengers that the tortoises should be delivered to his accomplice in Howrah and from there the species would be exported to Bangladesh,‚ÄĚ a DRI statement said.
This is not the first such incident to be reported from the state.
In February this year, the DRI seized 406 endangered Indian star tortoises from two women passengers at the Vijayawada railway station.
According to reports, the women had procured the reptiles from Kadiri in Anantapur district, and were transporting it to Bhubaneswar in Odisha, from where the tortoises would be smuggled to Bangladesh.
The tortoises, with the scientific name geochelone elegans, are labelled 'endangered' under Schedule IV of India's Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A star tortoise is one of the most expensive reptiles in the international pet market in a number of countries in Asia, like Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, as well as in Europe and America.
According to numbers from the Wildlife Protection Society of India, while almost 8,000 star tortoises were rescued between 1990 and 1999, the number shot up to 36,000 between 2000 and 2013, with a majority of them seized from Tamil Nadu.