975 star tortoises rescued,
sent to Sanjay Gandhi park for care

Express India
October 24, 2007

Nitya Kaushik

Posted online: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mumbai, October 23 Even as the forest department unloaded 1,600 star tortoises at Tamil Nadu?s Point Calimere Sanctuary recently, it has over 900 more to take care of.

The Bombay Customs Department has now, in two separate incidents, seized 975 star tortoises and sent them to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park for safe keeping and treatment.

G Ravindranath, additional commissioner, Customs, Mumbai airport, said, ?Last Friday, we seized one batch of 610 tortoises and on Monday about 365 tortoises ?all from smugglers on way to Bangkok. Two men have been arrested for Friday?s seizure, but we haven?t been able to find Monday?s offender yet.?

Sarfaraz Khan, Thane conservator, had earlier pointed out that star tortoises are of great demand as a pet in the south-east Asian as well as western countries.

?The average cost of one star tortoise in illegal markets of the US is as high as $500,? he said. At this rate, the newly-rescued tortoises would be worth $487,500 in the international market.

On Friday, the Customs checked the baggage of Umarkhan Ashik Ali and Umer Sahabur Kader Sait, both from Chennai getting ready to board Cathay Pacific flight CX 750 on way to Bangkok.
?The men were carrying 610 tortoises in two medium sized suitcases with trolley. They were arrested on the spot and are in judicial custody in the Arthur Road jail,? a forest department official confirmed.

On Monday, 365 tortoises were seized from Rafiq Amjed Khan who was preparing to board a Singapore Airlines flight, SQ 423, also to disembark at Bangkok. However, officials said Khan escaped leaving behind his passport and visas. Khan?s passport has been sent to the passport office for enquiry.

Conservator of forest at the Sanjay Gandhi park P N Munde said, ?The tortoises were sent to us for safekeeping yesterday.? They will remain at the park until a court order to release them at Point Calimere Sanctuary.




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