The Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of Mumbai Customs on Tuesday seized 57 rare and exotic turtles and tortoises valued at Rs 71 lakh while two people were trying to smuggle them to Bangkok in Thailand.
Officials seized 47 three-keeled pond turtles and 10 Indian pond tortoises concealed in the bags of Abdul Razzak Bashir Ahmad, 55, and Ambur Mushtaquin, 25. Customs officials said the three-keeled pond turtles command a high price in the illegal market.
The turtles and tortoises are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. The two were stopped by an AIU batch headed by deputy commissioner of customs Sameer Wankhede while trying to board a Thai Airways flight around 10 pm.
When asked about the contents of the bags, the two said they were carrying imitation jewellery. On checking, the officials found the turtles and tortoises concealed under clothes.
The two told AIU officials they had came from Chennai and were given the two bags by someone outside the airport. “We have got information about those behind the racket and are looking for them,” said a customs official.
On checking the passports of the two, officials found that Ahmad had made eight trips to Bangkok this year, while Mushtaquin has made seven. Officials are investigating if these trips, too, were for smuggling purposes.
Commissioner of Customs, Airport, PM Saleem confirmed the seizure. Advocate Ravi Hirani who represented the two accused said they were arrested by the wildlife authorities and later released on bail of Rs 15,000 each.