India has reported its largest-ever wildlife haul.
On Jan. 11, the police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) recovered over 6,000 freshwater turtles from poachers who planned to smuggle them to southeast Asia. The rescued reptiles weigh 4.4 tonnes in all and were found stuffed in 140 jute bags at a smuggler’s residence in Gauriganj town of Amethi.
“Wildlife authorities confirmed that this is the largest haul in the country’s wildlife history, both in terms of number and weight,” Arvind Chaturvedi, head of UP’s special task force that rescued the turtles, told Agence France-Presse. The rescued turtles are currently being kept at a makeshift sanctuary in UP.
Freshwater turtles are not rare but they feature on the protected species list under India’s Wildlife Protection Act. This species is found in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The bones of these turtles are used to make traditional medicines, while their meat is considered an aphrodisiac and even used in occult rituals. Smugglers can earn up to Rs1,000 ($15) per turtle on this variety of the species.
Freshwater turtles are much sought after in southeast Asia, which has led to a rise in their smuggling from India. Over the last year or so, Indian agencies have busted several such attempts.
Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 01, over 3,000 flapshell turtles were seized by forest department officials in West Bengal in two separate raids. In February 2016, forest officials in Jharkhand had seized another 3,000 turtles from a truck. The same month, Manipur forest officials found over 1,400 Indian flapshell and black pond turtles in two separate raids in the state.