Mumbai woman arrested for smuggling tortoises

In one of the largest such seizures in recent times in Mumbai, as many as 523 star tortoises were rescued from a 42-year-old woman who was intercepted at the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) in Kurla on Thursday afternoon. In a joint operation conducted by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and Thane forest department, a woman who was travelling with two children was intercepted.

After receiving a tip-off from DRI on Thursday morning, a five member team from WCCB (the regional deputy director, two inspectors and two constables) and a 11-member team from the Thane forest department reached LTT by 1.30pm.

The accused was travelling with two children to avoid suspicion.

“Based on DRI intelligence, our team waited for a train coming from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu that arrived at 3pm with a 42-year-old lady with three bags and 523 star tortoises. She had her seven-year old son and 13-year old daughter along with her,” said M Maranko, regional deputy director, WCCB. “The accused had boarded the train at Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh. We arrested her, and ensured her children were sent back to Anantpur.”

Maranko said based on the interrogation, it was not clear so far whether the accused was a carrier or supplier. “The interrogation has just begun, and the idea is to find out the source of the tortoises. This is so far the largest seizure in Mumbai till date,” he said.

Describing the trade, Maranko said that the animals are bought for Rs 800 to Rs 900 for a pair from wholesalers or picked up directly from their habitat. “Their pictures are clicked and they are sold online on various websites at Rs 3,800 – Rs 4,000 for a pair. People are willing to pay for these species with college students delivering them.”

The protected species were concealed in three bags carried by her. “We suspect that the lady may have sourced the tortoises from Andhra Pradesh. The investigation about its origin is on,” said a senior DRI officer.
Such smuggling harms the animals and many die during transit. Sources said traders were finding secure means to carry out the illegal activities using mobile messenger applications.
-HT

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