Tortoises worth about Rs 5 crore and Sambar deer horns worth Rs 50 lakhs were seized by Kasargod forest officials on Saturday. Four people were arrested and two cars they were traveling in were also seized.
Four white tortoises worth Rs four crore, seven black tortoises worth Rs 80 lakhs and horns worth Rs 50 lakhs were found inside the cars. Two people on bikes who had escorted the vehicle have escaped.
"The white tortoises come under Schedule one category of protected animals in Wild Life Protection Act. In many parts of the district, tortoise smuggling has been happening and we carried a raid after we got a tip-off," Kasaragod range forest officer Anil Kumar told TNM.
He said that the tortoises were sourced locally from villages, and that although the species were rare, white tortoises were common in the district.
The range forest officer also observed that the tortoises are mainly used for specific poojas in North India.
"Earlier also we had caught people smuggling this animal, so they all have said that businessmen in North India use these tortoises for some pooja, that are meant to increase their wealth. They are ready to spend crores of rupees for this pooja. Some species of tortoises are used for meat and medicines. Deer horns are used as a decorative material outside India," Anil Kumar said.
Apart from white and black tortoises, star tortoises are also in great demand in national and international market says forest officials. Star tortoises are of great demand as they reportedly bring good luck to the keeper.