Seizure at Indian airport results in rescue of 440 endangered star tortoises

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Earlier this year, India customs officers seized 440 star tortoises at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport in the state of Kerala.

The hatchlings were found hidden inside the checked bag of an air passenger bound for Bangkok.

Customs officials at airport checked the baggage for what they thought to be mangoes but turned out to be drugged India Star Tortoise hatchlings.

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The tortoises had been immobilized after being dipped in a sleeping pill solution. The accused have been booked under the provisions of the Customs Act and the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.

The tortoises are “red listed” as threatened by the IUCN.

Called in to help, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and local partners the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) immediately sent a team to assist the Kerala Forest Department in stabilizing the animals. 

The first stage in the rescue was to move 357 seized Star Tortoises to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, where they are being treated. The remaining animals that had sustained some injuries and infections were sent to the Trivandrum Zoo.

Star tortoises live in dry grassland and shrub forest areas of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The animals are being fed locally available cacti and other plants which all of them are happily eating. A small veterinary lab has been set up and daily monitoring is being conducted. During the examinations the team makes sure the tortoises are in good health, they check for ticks, provide antibiotics if needed, etc.

The team has also placed and planted grass to provide them natural cover. 

India is a transit point for the illegal business of smuggling animals.

Customs said the accused was just a “minor link” in the chain of poachers, middlemen, sellers and collectors who profited from the widespread illegal trade in wildlife in South East Asia.

The tortoises are valued for their beautiful carapace and flesh in certain South East Asian countries. They are also used for medical purposes in these countries as well as for pets. There is an illogical belief among the people in these countries that the tortoises bring prosperity and luck to the owner.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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