In recent years, there has been an increase in wildlife trafficking of star tortoise in Bengaluru.
Bengaluru, Jan 25th: Paridhi Jain
Data from the forest department and Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC) shows, 1200-star tortoises were seized in 2022 as compared to 551 in 2021. Most of them were seized from the airport and only three from pet shops located in Yeshwanthpur and Shivajinagar. Due to the increase in trade, the species has been moved to schedule I from IV in Wildlife protection act 1972 (WPA) which was recently amended in Dec 2022.
According to the forest department the tortoises are collected in large numbers around Karnataka Andhra Border around Chikballapur district by the Hakki Pikki tribes and transported through air, road and sea routes to southeast Asia to be used as pets. It is difficult to prevent the trade as the tortoises are stuffed in suitcases and travelling kits to avoid detection.
Mr. Bhaskar, Deputy conservator of forests (DCF), Forest mobile squad, Bangalore says, “Most of the consignments are seized by the customs at the airport and also by police. They are booked under customs act and Wildlife protection act (section 9). All the animals are handed over to the forest department which are released back in the wild usually Bannerghatta. There is three years imprisonment as per WPA for keeping any wild animals.
Dr Roopa Satish has been working as Wildlife veterinarian in Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre at Bannerghatta national park (WRRC BRC). According to her, it is difficult to track how many casualties happen during transit. But out of 100 tortoises brought to them, 30 percent of the tortoises rescued do not survive. Most develop respiratory issues.
She adds further, “Thousands of tortoises are stuffed together in suitcases and boxes to avoid detection. Thus, they are not able to breathe stuffed together, suffer prolonged period of stress defecating on each other. Most of them collapse and die. We check their reflexes, weigh them and take care of them until released back in the wild.”
According to her, transportation sometimes is of 72 hours which they are not able to bear. Whenever the police bring the boxes, due to delay in paperwork it usually takes one week, which also adds to the problem.
Josh Louies is a Deputy Director at Wildlife trust of India and also head of the Wildlife crime control division and has been working on wildlife crime since many years. He says, “It is a demand driven trade, so the demand needs to be decreased. Source of collection needs to be prohibited. At transportation points, checking by customs needs to be increased. Hostile Activity Watch Kernel (HAWK) system is something which we are working with Karnataka Forest department to centralize the wildlife crime related information in a database.”
He concludes by saying that sensitization of people involved in collection and sale of wildlife species is really important.