Lucknow, Jan 11: In one of the biggest seizures in the country, Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force rescued 6,400 turtles from Amethi and nabbed the kingpin of an inter-state gang involved in smuggling of reptiles, police said on Wednesday.
The turtles, weighing 440 quintals, were found stuffed in sacks and lay scattered on the ground inside the compound of the accused's house in Gauriganj town, STF spokesman said here, describing it as one of the biggest such recoveries. He said the gang's kingpin Raj Bahadur Singh was arrested in this connection, while two Indian softshell turtles were also seized from his possession.
"We have recovered such a huge amount of turtles from one single location. We are investigating this further and looking at the involvement of more people, especially smuggling rings," Additional Superintendent of Police Arvind Chaturvedi, who led the STF raid on Tuesday, said.
During interrogation Singh disclosed that small poachers were involved in catching turtles from Gauriganj, Jagdishpur and Salwan areas and supplying them to organised smugglers. Singh admitted that he used to collect these animals from smugglers and transport them to Kolkata.
He also gave certain information about smugglers and poachers in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha reflecting the huge and highly organised smuggling network in the country. From Kolkata -- the main transit point -- turtles are smuggled to Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Hong Kong and other Southeast Asian countries from its shores.
The turtle species 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.
They are spread across Fatehgarh, Kannauj, Allahabad and Varanasi in the state. Meanwhile, UP forest department on Wednesday issued a statewide alert and has warned that more raids will be conducted in the coming days to crack down on the smuggling of turtles. UP is home to 14 endangered turtle species of the total 28 found in India. These include the Indian flapshell, softshell, roofed and black turtles.
There is a high demand for turtles in the international market for meat, its Feng Shui values and production of aphrodisiac medicines. Their shells are sent to Bangladesh and China for use in soups and powdered medicine. "There is a belief from Feng Shui traditions that a turtle with all 20 nails -- 5 on each leg -- brings good luck," a senior Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) officer said.
Turtles are also believed to be in high demand around the harvest festival of Makar Sakranti and its meat, which is said to be clean white and aromatic, is consumed in eastern and north eastern India. These reptiles are said to be useful for maintenance of purity of the river Ganges and its ecological balance as they feed on crabs, snails, dead fish and fragments of dead animals.
"Without these turtles, cleaning of Ganga would be even more difficult," said a wildlife activist.
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 of Threatened Species.