By Vineet Upadhyay
Haldwani: Police and forest department officials, in a joint operation, nabbed three men on the Bareilly Road near Lalkuan and recovered 158 Indian softshell turtles. The amphibian is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Schedule I of the Act provides for 'absolute protection'.
The Indian softshell turtle (Nilssonia gangetica), or Ganges softshell turtle, is a fresh water turtle mainly found in rivers Ganges, Mahanadi and Indus. It is placed under the vulnerable category (VU) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The turtle is in high demand in the Gulf countries, and its meat is considered a delicacy, sometimes sold for lakhs of rupees.
"With the onset of the festive season, smuggling of different kinds of turtles becomes rampant. These turtles are also believed to be auspicious, and people buy them for aquariums in their homes. Quite apart from the high demand in the international market, the animals are smuggled for locals also," a forest official said.
The possession of animals listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 may attract imprisonment of three to seven years. IUCN website mentions that up to 40 tonnes of turtles are smuggled in the international market each week.
The three men arrested on Thursday were travelling on NH 109. Police and forest officials had earlier received a tip-off on the smuggling of the turtles. Police said that the three men had put up the name of a political party on the car, in a bid to dodge the cops.
All three accused, Raju Majumdar (24), Junaid (22) and Aslam (21) belong to Rudrapur, and were planning to sell the turtles. Police suspect that the animals were meant for sale in Delhi.