In a major bust, Andhra forest officials rescued as many as 1600 Indian softshell tortoises which were being smuggled from Kaikaluru in Krishna district on Saturday. According to forest officials, they were being smuggled to West Bengal and Odisha.
Indian softshell tortoises reside in the freshwaters of Kolleru lake and its neighbouring aquafarms. Kaikaluru Wildlife Management Forest Range Officer (FRO) B Vijaya said, â€śTwo men from West Bengal were arrested near Madwannagudem of Kalidindi mandal when they were smuggling the tortoises to West Bengal.â€ť
Forest officials suspect that locals are also involved. â€śTwo cellphones and a vehicle have been seized. Their call data is being examined to find the hand of locals behind it,â€ť Vijaya added.
A case has been registered against Devashis (26) and Aran Ghosh (29) under Section 1 of India's Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. They were sent to remand on Saturday. The specific tortoises fall under Schedule I of the Act as they're considered as most endangered species.
A local network?
A kilo of tortoise is reportedly being bought for Rs 350 and sold for Rs 750 as there is a 'demand' for the meat. Forest officials suspect that a network is operating in the area, and are probing that angle.
The Indian softshell tortoises usually survive in aquafarms and in freshwater zones. According to forest officials, they are being caught, preserved, and smuggled weekly once in vehicles.
Officials have observed that the tortoises were being smuggled by covering them with fishes in the trays.
In February 2018, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized 406 endangered Indian star tortoises from two women passengers at the Vijayawada railway station.