Officials with the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) have busted an animal smuggling racket based in Bengaluru and have rescued 1,012 exotic turtles and tortoises worth over Rs 4 crore.
According to a report by Deccan Chronicle, these reptiles were to be shipped off to Hong Kong and China, for being used as “good luck charms” and as delicacies in restaurants.
The sleuths arrested one person and more is likely to be nabbed in the coming days in Bengaluru and Chennai, Bangalore Mirror reported.
The turtles were found in seven tightly bound travel bags and were kept in two cars bound for Chennai.
The seized tortoises included red eared slider, which is one of the 100 most invasive species listed by International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In all, there were 852 Indian Star Tortoise, 76 Tricarinate hill turtle, 46 Peter (Melanchelys tricarinata Female), 11 red-eared Slider and 27 Indian tent turtles, the DC report states.
A team of DRI sleuths intercepted these vehicles at Attibelle toll gate located on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
The DC report states that a Bengaluru-based pet shop owner has been identified as the mastermind of the racket and was taken into custody on Sunday.
All these species are classified as endangered and their illegal capture and transport can attract a minimum prison term of seven years according to the Customs Act and Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
The BM report states that upon interrogation, the accused has given more information about his accomplices in the city and the DRI team has launched a hunt for them.
Both reports state that the racket has been active since 2016.
The turtles and tortoises were captured through agents from forests in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. The animals were then taken by road to Chennai to be airlifted as air cargo to China.
The DRI has informed the state forest department about the seizure and the rescued animals would be handed over to them.
DRI sleuths suspect that the gang has so far managed to smuggle turtles worth at least Rs one crore to China.
The individual price of these animals depends on the size and purpose of procurement for each of these species, the BM report states.
It was also pointed out that since the turtles were kept captive in hostile conditions, the forest department would have to give veterinary care to them for a couple of days before they are released into the wild or rehabilitated in any government animal centre.