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| Last Updated:: 11/01/2017

6,400 Gangetic turtles rescued from poachers in Uttar Pradesh












In the biggest seizure of its kind in India - a total of 6,434 Indian flapshell turtles have been recovered from poachers in Uttar Pradesh's Amethi district on Tuesday.



Experts say India ranks among the top five Asian countries for turtle conservation, but nearly 40 per cent of the species are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List.



The UP Special Task Force (STF) headed by additional superintendent of police Arvind Chaturvedi raided a tributary of the Indira Gandhi Canal in Gauri Ganj area at 3 am.



They found the reptiles stuffed in 140 gunny bags waiting to be hauled into a truck with a West Bengal permit, apart from some boats. In total, the freshwater turtles weighed about five tonne, officials said. 'This is indeed the largest haul in India's wildlife history both in terms of numbers and weight,' said Chaturvedi. While the Indian flapshell turtle, also known locally as Sundari, is the most common turtle in the country, the rate at which it is being poached has set alarm bells ringing. 



It is native to South Asia and is found only in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In India, it lives in the Gangetic belt all along Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, especially in the Ghagra- Gomti tributaries network. A tribe known as Kanjad is known to rear as well as poach it in the rivers, lakes and small UP village ponds.




Practically through every means possible – road, train and even parcel courier – these turtles are sent to Mumbai, West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Here, they are loved for their meat, which is said to be clean white and aromatic. 



Further, their shells are sent to Bangladesh, China, etc for use in soups and powdered medicine.




'Turtle poaching in Uttar Pradesh has reached epic proportions. It is home to 14 endangered turtle species of the total 28 found in India. 'These include the Indian flapshell, softshell, roofed and black turtles.




'We estimate that at least 20,000 are being smuggled out of UP every year,' said Arunima Singh of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). 'This is indeed bad news for Ganga's purity and ecological balance too as these turtles feed on crabs, snails, dead fish and fragments of dead animals.




'Without these turtles, cleaning of Ganga would be even more difficult.' Further, their popularity in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam is growing rapidly.




Here, they are wanted as pets. A senior Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) officer said, 'There is this belief from Feng Shui traditions that a turtle with all 20 nails - 5 on each of the 4 legs - is a good luck charm.




'Often, these turtles are taken to Mumbai's Crawford Market, besides Kolkata.




'A considerable number are shipped out to various countries from the ports of these cities. Notably, these turtles are used to create aphrodisiacs and cosmetics too.' 




The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species puts the flapshell turtles in the 'least concerned' category but the reptile is in the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. 




'It is a challenge to stop these poachers and break their highly organised network,' said assistant superintendent of police Arvind Chaturvedi. 




'They are spread across Fatehgarh, Kannauj, Allahabad and Varanasi. They are exploiting the sandbanks of the rivers Saryu, Ghagra, etc.





Recently, many seizures were made in of West Bengal's Burdwan district and Howrah railway station.'