Father and son arrested near Mumbai with star tortoises worth Rs20 lakh

Father and son arrested near Mumbai with star tortoises worth Rs20 lakh

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) seized 200 star tortoises, which a man and his son were carrying in bags, at Kalyan station on Monday.

This is the first case of illegal tortoise or turtle trade in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) this year.

Sagiram, 40, and his son, Vijay, 27, were arrested and produced at a Kalyan magistrate court. The judge directed WCCB to keep them in judicial custody till Thursday, after which they are to be produced in court again.

Indian star tortoise is a protected species under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and each turtle costs about Rs10,000 in the international market, according to the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

The accused, from Balegowdanahalle village in Karnataka, are habitual offenders, according to the WCCB. They were arrested by the Karnataka forest department for a similar offence two years back and let go on bail earlier this year.

Officials with the seized consignment. (HT)

“We received a tip-off from our informer in Karnataka that the duo were travelling on a Bangalore-Lokmanya Tilak Terminus train, which would reach Mumbai by 2pm, and they would get off at Kalyan station,” said M Maranko, regional director, WCCB.

He added that seven WCCB officials and two forest officers from the anti-poaching unit of the state forest department waited at the station in plain clothes. “They were in a hurry to get out of the station. On checking their bags, we found the tortoises, stacked one on top of the other,” said Maranko.

WCCB headquarters took cognisance of the incident and will send a team along with the Karnataka forest department near Balegowdanahalle village to track down where the tortoises were being dispatched from. “While the accused have already revealed a lot about the wildlife trade nexus operating from Karnataka, we want to keep them in custody to track other consignments coming into MMR,” said Maranko.

Indian star tortoise

The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a medium-sized species of tortoise found in the dry and arid forests of both India and Sri Lanka.

• The tortoise is named for the star-like patterns on its high-domed shell.

• The reptile is protected under schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

• Size – 20cm – 30cm (8in – 12in)

• Weight – 1.3kg – 2.2kg

• Lifespan – 30 – 80 years

Conservation Status – Threatened (by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN))

Found: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttarakhand

Price at source: Rs200

Price at destination: BetweenRs10,000 to Rs50,000 per tortoise (on the international market)

Status: Protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (protected, but lower penalties for offences)