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Tiny stars await passage to India

india Updated: Jun 26, 2007 06:03 IST
Aditya Ghosh
Aditya Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Tiny stars await passage to India

Malaysia will ship back to India nearly 400 live star-patterned tortoises smuggled out of the country, wildlife officials in Kuala Lumpur said on Monday. The tortoises, they say, will be in India on Tuesday.

But wildlife officials in Delhi told HT they did not know when, where and how the tortoises would return.

Haidar Khan, a senior director at Malaysia’s Wildlife Department, said customs officers at Kuala Lumpur airport seized 404 Indian star tortoises in April from an Indian’s cabin baggage. The man was deported to India.

The tortoises, scientifically known as Geochelone elegans, could have fetched up to $23,700 (Rs 9.7 lakh), Haidar said. Nineteen of the 404 have died; only 385 will make the voyage to India, he added.

Indian officials, however, said Malaysia had not coordinated with them; they had apparently not even been told about the alleged smuggler’s deportation. Trade in all varieties of tortoises is illegal in India.

Pramod Krishnan, joint director (wildlife), Ministry of Environment and Forests said: “They (the tortoises) should go to Chennai, their place of origin…. But I don’t have details.”

P Subramanium, the ministry’s deputy director (south) in Chennai said he knew nothing of the matter.

In the past three years, 19 cases of attempted smuggling involving over 10,000 tortoises, have been detected at Mumbai and Chennai. The destination was always Malaysia. There is no joint strategy to combat the problem. “We take it case by case,” Krishnan said.

(With inputs from Reuters)