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Smuggled Indian Star tortoises to be brought back home

Smuggled Indian Star tortoises to be brought back home

By Humra Laeeq

According to an animal welfare organisation, 97 Indian Star tortoises smuggled from India to Singapore will be brought back to their natural habitat in Karnataka. This initiative was designed by the Karnataka Forest Department and Wildlife SOS–a non-profit Indian organisation established in 1998 with the primary objective of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in the country.

New approach for saving the Star tortoise

Chief Wildlife Warden of Karnataka, Anur Reddy along with Wildlife SOS co-founder, Kartick Satyanarayana travelled to Singapore to plan out the repatriation. At the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore, they carried out the spot inspection of the tortoises currently under quarantine (the place where the tortoises exposed to infections are placed for healing.)

The organisations sent request letters to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the intergovernmental agreement which ensures that international trade in species does not threaten their survival. After attaining permission, a team of veterinarians from Wildlife SOS-India and ACRES, Singapore would reportedly accompany the homecoming of the turtles. They will be then monitored at Wildlife SOS Field Station in Koppal, for a period of 6 months, for recovery from any infection previously caught. Later, they will be released into their natural habitat.

Cultural and symbolic value of the animal

The Indian Star tortoise is an especially threatened species found in dry areas and scrub forests, such as the ones present in Karnataka and Sri Lanka. The animal is famous for its exotic value in terms of its unique star-shaped yellow and black pattern on its shell. Many cultures adopt the tortoise as a pet or as a spiritual symbol because they are considered to be good omens. In many Hindu temples, the tortoise represents the incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Internationally, it has a medicinal value in traditional Chinese medicine. For these reasons, the tortoise shows high demand across Asia when it is poached from the wild and sold internationally.

A torturous trade threatening its survival

The trade in the species has proven to be especially traumatic for the animal. The tortoise is wrapped in cloth and packed inside suitcases. Some smugglers try to avoid detection by layering fruits, vegetables or fish over the tortoises. Through rail or road, the middlemen carry the animals to eastern India that act as ‘hubs’. From there, they are shipped off to Thailand, Malaysia, China and Singapore. Many tortoises do not survive the process, and most arrive with cracked shells.

As this is an international illegal trade, monitoring becomes hard especially when it is one-sided. While the Star tortoise is listed under Appendix II of CITES which allows its trade, India added a layer of protection with the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. However, loopholes in legal systems of countries like Thailand or Singapore allow the illegal trade to survive. Despite all this, in 2014 alone, about 55,000 wild tortoises were poached to southern Asian countries. Thailand is regarded as one of the highest priced markets for illegal turtles, and there are huge discrepancies between import-export data.

The proposed solution

Neil D’Cruze, Research Head at World Animal Protection, UK proposes that the issue must be solved internationally. D’Cruze suggests listing the star tortoise under ‘threatened species’ on the IUCN Red List–the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species monitored in the UK. D’Cruze also stated, “We support existing calls for countries in this region to implement corresponding national bans regarding the commercial trade of Star tortoises.” Perhaps with international attention, we can regulate both sides complicit in the illegal trade threatening the survival of the Indian Star tortoise.

Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt


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