Over 6,000 live freshwater turtles were recently rescued by Indian authorities from poachers, according to a press statement released on Wednesday.
Weighing over four tons, all 6,430 turtles retrieved in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, account to India’s largest wildlife haul yet.
The Indian flapshell turtles, packed into 140 jute bags, were reportedly on its way to being smuggled to Southeast Asia when it was discovered by the police. The species are considered as protected animals under Wildlife Protection Act.
“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,” Special Task Force head Arvind Chaturvedi told AFP.
Chaturvedi further stated that they have already arrested the syndicate’s “kingpin” although according to the police, there are still others that need to be arrested.
The authorities found the poachers’ truck half-filled with the turtles on its way to a drop point in Kolkata, India where they are set to be illegally smuggled to Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand.
Annually, at least 20,000 are smuggled out of Uttar Pradesh, a state home to 14 of India’s 28 endangered turtle species, according to Agence France-Presse.
Indian flapshell turtles are usually consumed for their meat which is considered an aphrodisiac. In some cultures, the turtles’ bones are turned into powder and used as an ingredient in traditional medicine.
According to US-based Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) representative Rachna Tiwari, flapshell turtles can earn smugglers up to 1,000 rupees ($15) a piece. The bigger softshell costs 8,000 rupees ($ 120) each.
“Enforcement against poaching has improved, but the scale at which these protected turtles are being poached, who knows, they may also soon become endangered,” Tiwari was quoted as saying.
The thousands of rescued turtles are now placed in a sanctuary in the TSA’s local branch.