A grand total of 6,430 protected turtles were seized from wildlife smugglers in India. The authorities from the Uttar Pradesh Police’s Special Taskforce discovered the flapshell turtles during a raid which was the largest bust of its kind in the nation’s history.
The helpless freshwater turtles had been piled up inside bags and were being loaded onto a truck when they were discovered and seized. Authorities believe that the truck containing the turtles would have been on its way for India’s eastern border, which would then lead onto various countries throughout South Asia including Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China, where they would have been smuggled and sold.
The meat and bones of the animals would then have been utilised within these countries where they are traditionally believed to have medicinal values. In China, the shell of the turtle is burnt and then ground with oil in order to produce what they believe to be a medicine to treat various types of skin disease. In India, the shell is also used to make a similar remedy, which is believe to be a medicine for tuberculosis.
In many South Asian provinces, the turtles and their eggs are used as a source of food, which adds an additional threat to the depleting populations. The value of this meat, which many even believe to have aphrodisiac properties, has since heavily shot up, which in turn has increased illegal international exploitation of the animals. According to the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), the Indian flapshells can sell for up to 1,000 rupees per animal, which is around $15. Due to this, and the threat of decreasing natural habitats due to human expansion, the species could soon be very threatened.
One person has been arrested so far who is believed to be the head of the poaching operation, according to the special taskforce chief, Arvind Chaturvedi. Whilst the investigation is still ongoing, it has already been determined that a seizure of this volume of the protected flapshell turtles has never happened before. Chaturvedi told AFP, “Wildlife authorities confirmed that this is the largest haul in the country’s wildlife history, both in terms of number and weight — 4.4 tonnes”.
Whilst the fresh water flapshell turtles are not currently listed as an endangered species, they are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, and the vast scale of poaching of the animals containing such high volumes would dramatically change the numbers in the wild. Authorities have said that due to this, the current listing of the turtles could soon change.
Flapshell turtles are soft-shell turtles that are widespread across South Asian provinces and naturally live in quiet waters such as rivers and streams.
Thanks to the seizure of the thousands of flapshell turtles, there is still hope for their survival as they will be released back into their natural habitat as soon as the investigation has come to an end. In the meantime they are being taking care of.
To find out more information about the threats facing turtles worldwide, visit the Turtle Survival Alliance.