Rly police stumble upon tortoise trade

India Times
9 Jul 2007, 0126 hrs IST,TNN

BANGALORE: Shivajinagar's link to the international animal trade was established yet again with the seizure of 681 star tortoises on Saturday evening at Yeshwantpur railway station.

The tortoises were packed in gunny bags and kept in seven cardboard boxes labelled 'live tropical fish' and fish food bound for Howrah in West Bengal, by the Bangalore-Howrah Express. On Saturday evening, railway police heard some noise from the boxes. When they opened it, they discovered the tortoises. The police have arrested Saleem, who worked at a pet shop in Russell Market, in this connection.

Star tortoise (geochelone elegans), also known as starred tortoise, has a religious significance in north India. Many people worship it as 'Koorma avatara', the 'vaahana' of Lord Vishnu. Abroad, it has great value as a pet.

Railway SP K H Srinivasan said: "The mobile number mentioned on the parcel bill helped us nab Saleem. We are interrogating him for more details and investigating the source of these animals and the gang's connections outside Bangalore."

The Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) will be the temporary home for the rescued star tortoises until the court decides their fate.

Last month, 300 star tortoises were released into the wild after a court granted permission for their release. These had been rescued last year by customs officials at the Bangalore Airport.

On the latest catch, BBP assistant veterinary officer Dr G K Vishwanath said: "The tortoises are suffering from dehydration. We will keep them in lukewarm water to rehydrate them." The new tortoises will be an addition to the existing 200-plus star tortoises kept already at the park. With an animal count of over 1,400 at the BBP, space is the only constraint for these new guests.

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