A search operation was conducted on the Navajeevan Express and a passenger was taken into custody for allegedly smuggling the tortoises in an AC coach.

500 Indian star tortoises being smuggled in train rescued from Vijayawada stationFile photo. Image: Wildlife SOS
news Crime Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 09:00

In a major bust, officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized around 500 Indian star tortoises, after they conducted a raid at the Vijayawada railway station on Monday night.

DRI officials said that a search operation was conducted on the Navajeevan Express based on a tip-off, and a passenger was taken into custody for allegedly smuggling the tortoises in an AC coach.

Investigation officials said that the accused was handed the tortoises at Kadiri in Anantapur district and was heading to Ahmedabad, from where the reptiles would be smuggled to various countries.

After DRI officials seized the tortoises, they called the Forest Department to rehabilitate the reptiles. The Veterinary Assistant Surgeon from the Government Veterinary dispensary in Vijayawada also inspected the tortoises and certified them to be healthy. Officials are also trying to ascertain where the tortoises were originally picked up from.

“We suspect that the star tortoises were collected from the natural habitats near Madanapalle and the neighbouring forests. We will shift the tortoises to Visakhapatnam zoo," Krishna District Forest Officer (DFO) V. Ramachandra Rao was quoted as saying. 

The Indian star 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). They are also prohibited for export.

An Indian 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.

This is not the first time that such an incident has come to light, as in August last year, the DRI seized 1,125 star tortoises that were being smuggled to Bangladesh, at the Visakhapatnam railway station.

In February last year, the DRI seized 406 endangered Indian star tortoises from two women passengers at the Vijayawada railway station.

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