The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) seized 24 star tortoises from a person selling the protected species from Airoli, Navi Mumbai on Monday.
The accused, Mayuresh Nathuram Shirke, resident of Shastri Nagar, Dombivili (West), was arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 with the help of wildlife activists from NGO Plants and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). However, after paying a fine of Rs 25,000 to WCCB, he was let off.
“After receiving a tip-off from our sources on Sunday, five of our officers were deputed near Gopinath Patil Parsik Janata Sahakari Bank, sector 1, Airoli where they nabbed the accused,” said M Maranko, regional deputy director, WCCB. “Trading star tortoise is a compoundable offence if the number of animals in trade is less. Apart from paying the fine, the accused gave an undertaking that he will not repeat it.”
WCCB officials said the accused had purchased each tortoise for Rs 400 and had planned to sell each for Rs 1500. “However, the price for each tortoise in the international market is ten times the amount that the accused was selling it for in Mumbai,” said Maranko.
The tortoises have been currently housed at the WCCB headquarters in Navi Mumbai. The species are protected under schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and trade, possession, transport, sale or offer for sale of an animal attracts an imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years depending on the number of species.
WCCB officials said there had been five cases of turtle, tortoise trade this year from Mumbai as opposed to twice the number last year. “There has been a drop in the number of cases owing to heightened awareness among people. We are also surveying different avenues of social media through which the trade is currently being organised,” said Maranko.
Experts confirmed that while there had been an increase in awareness, traders had also achieved secure means for carrying out their operation. “There is increased vigilance for traders and investigators on social media now. However, the number of cases has not decreased as closed groups on social media apps such as Whatsapp are being used to communicate and all numbers have unique codes making them untraceable,” said Jose Louies, head of trade control, Wildlife Trust of India.