After the Mumbai airport Customs rescued 183 turtles being smuggled to Malaysia on Saturday, the wildlife department is still struggling to find them a home.
Of the 183 turtles, many of which were wrapped in adhesive tape to restrict their movement, two have died of infections. Four are being treated at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Hospital in Thane and 177 are kept at the office of the Wildlife department in Thane.
The spotted black terrapin/pond turtles – a fresh water species protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 – are native to north India. The wildlife department had transported 177 turtles to a rescue centre at Dahanu in Palghar district on Tuesday, but had to bring them back. “There are no infrastructures or facilities at Dahanu. Three of the turtles have become dull because of the traveling,” said Pawan Sharma, president, Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare.
Anil Todarmal, range forest officer, Thane, wildlife department, said: “We are trying to release these fresh water turtles in their natural habitat. We are looking for a rescue centre with fresh water tanks.”
The turtles cannot be released into local water bodies as they are not native to Maharashtra. “SGNP has refused to take in the turtles as this is not their natural habitat. As there is no other ideal rescue centre, chances of the surviving turtles developing infections is extremely high,” said Shakuntala Mazumdar, SPCA, Thane.
Zoologists, too, have advised against releasing the animals in local water bodies. Parvish Pandya, senior zoology professor, Bhawans College, Andheri, said, “Leaving these turtles in an area where they do not belong is unscientific. The authorities need to transport them to their original habitat as soon as possible.”
“Too much of travel for such exotic species might lead to sudden shocks, ultimately leading to their deaths. The turtles need to be provided with their original diet and looked after by a biologist who knows their requirements,” added Pandya.
The turtles were being carried in two suitcases to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Officials from the wildlife department said they will send the turtles to Katraj Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Pune, for the time being.