Two suitcases crammed with 183 turtles were seized by Customs at the Mumbai airport on Saturday night. They were being smuggled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Customs handed over the turtles to the wildlife department.
More than 45 Spotted Black Terrapin turtles, a protected species, were found wrapped with adhesive tape to restrict their movement.
“These turtles are from India’s north east and are quite rare. Such animals are smuggled for aphrodisiac purposes to Southeast Asia. This is the second case within a year where we have recovered environmental treasures from smugglers at the airport,” said Milind Lanjewar, additional commissioner, customs. He said each turtle is worth between Rs10,000 and Rs1,00,000 in international market.
According to custom officials, the accused have been identified as Saiyed Ibrahim Sickender and Sahajan Naina Mohammad, who were trying to smuggle the turtles as part of check-in luggage.
Kishore Thakre, deputy conservator of forest, Thane, said, “We will file a case against the accused soon.”
The turtles were brought to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Thane, where they will undergo an immediate medical check-up.
“These are all fresh water turtles and need tanks to survive. We are planning to shift them to Karnala bird sanctuary near Panvel, where there are two tanks,” said Shakuntala Mazumdar, SPCA, Thane.
Mazumdar said the smugglers tried camouflage the animals to look like shells by wrapping them with the adhesive tape.
“Turtles generally do not have difficulty breathing within their shells, but because of the excessive amount of plastic used, we need to check their condition after the medical test,” said Mazumdar.