Seizure points to Kolkata link in global turtle racket

The chance seizure of over 10,000 turtles by the custom officers at Kolkata airport on Thursday has blown the lid of a multi-million dollar trade in exotic wildlife pets. The investigation so far has revealed that the consignment of the endangered species from China was to feed the fancy of exotic pet owners.

The two Chennai-based smugglers, arrested in the case, were reportedly trying to smuggle the turtles, the estimated market price of whose is around Rs 60 lakh, from China to Kolkata via Singapore. The racket, preliminary investigations reveal, has been smuggling such items for the past few days via the same route.

The rescued turtles, belonging to the red-eared terrapin species, have been kept at the animal rescue centre of the wildlife wing of the West Bengal Forest Department in Salt Lake, where they are undergoing treatment by a group of doctors and scientists. A senior wildlife official said that over 100 turtles died en route to the centre.

"All the turtles are newborn. The smugglers must have collected the eggs and got them hatched scientifically," the official added.

Head of Zoological Survey of India (Reptilian Section) T S N Murthy said: "The red-eared slider, a native of Southern America and Northern Mexico, is invasive. It can infect other species, which is why their export is banned in several countries. But it has a very low metabolism and can survive without food and water for several days. The smugglers had packed the turtles in a very good condition with adequate oxygen, still over 100 died due to dehydration."

"The slider is one of the most popular species used as pet in the United States. In India, too, people have started keeping them as pets," the official said.

Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife, S Kulanbaivel, said, "We are keeping a strict vigil on this trade, which is carried out internationally now."

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