Why smugglers are after star tortoises
CHENNAI: The bright yellow shell of an Indian star tortoise glitters in the sun as the reptile crawls across the polo ground at Guindy National Park. Under the watchful eyes of the forest guards, star tortoises at the park may be safe, but if smuggled out and sold in the international market they could fetch up to Rs 25,000.
According to chief conservator of forests, Shekhar Kumar Niraj, star tortoises are now the most expensive reptile pets collected from the wild.They are found in the scrub jungles across the southern peninsula from Warangal to Chikmagalur. The reptile also inhabits Ramanathapuram, Tuticorin, Sivaganga, Srivilliputhur, Villupuram where such lupuram where suc vegetation is found.
“Most of the smuggled tor toises are col lected from Palamaner forests in C h i t o o r, Andhra Pradesh.F r o m there, they are transported to Chennai, the trade hub for this species,” Shekhar said. In the past eight years, smuggling of star tortoises has come down due to increased vigil at airports in the south. But smugglers have found a new route – the sea. A few months ago, a consignment of star tortoises was transported to Rameswaram and then ferried to Sri Lanka where officials seized it. The seizure of more than 2,500 star tortoises on August 21 could have been bound for Sri Lanka, Shekhar said. A senior wildlife official said a few years ago, when the demand for star tortoises escalated, the smugglers even attempt ed to raise them in cap tivity. However, it was expensive and also chances of get ting caught were very high. “So cap tive breeding was abandoned as col lecting star tortois es from the wild was the most viable option,” he said.Shekhar said star tor toises are smuggled to be reared as pets.
“They are not considered as an edible item. Only the soft-shelled tortoises or freshwater terrapins are smuggled for eating,” he said.
Like all animals, a safe future for the star tortoise lies in its conservation.The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed it under the vulnerable category and already a proposal to bring the reptile under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act from the existing Schedule IV has been suggested to the Union government