As many as 2,000 turtles were recovered from a gang of poachers operating from Uttar Pradesh's Etawah district and have been released into the waters of the Chambal river.
The turtles were seized from a house in Jaswant Nagar town, 250 kms from Lucknow. While five of the arrested were from Etawah, the home of Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, four were from West Bengal where turtles are in great demand for their perceived aphrodisiac properties.
Turtles are considered a delicacy and sold for close to Rs 1,000 a kg in the Indian market and up to Rs 10,000 in the international market, said wildlife officials. They are also hunted for their skin, used for making leather products.
Turtles, both freshwater and sea-based, are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act.
"Preliminary investigations suggest that a large chunk of the contraband found its way to the markets in Southeast Asian countries where turtle meat is converted into crunchy chips for convenient consumption," Etawah senior superintendent of police Ram Kumar said.
"As many as 1,000 turtles were seized by wildlife officials from the same area on December 20 last year," he said, adding that Etawah was being used as a transit point for poachers who picked up turtles from the Chambal river.