Jharkhand is set to get its first rescue and rehabilitation centre for smuggled tortoises in Dumka’s Massanjore dam to protect their dwindling population from further damage.
Frequent seizures of turtles and tortoises have prompted the state forest department to find a suitable haven to protect the endangered species from further exploitation. In different operations across four districts - Dumka, Giridih, Sahibganj and Dhanbad - in the state, the police have recovered more than 3,000 tortoises in the past one year alone.
The most recent seizure was made on January 11 in Dumka district where the police seized more than 2,600 tortoises from smugglers, who were on their way to West Bengal. The shelled reptiles were later released in the Massanjore dam but the very next day some 800 tortoises died and washed ashore, possibly due to mishandling during transportation by smugglers.
“We are consulting wildlife experts to select a safe zone in the dam that could be developed as a turtle breeding or conservation centre to increase their population,” conservator of forest (CF), Dumka-circle MK Singh said.
Massanjore, a 155-feet-high dam constructed with Canadian aid in 1955, is built on the Mayurakshi River, which originates from Deoghar and meets Hooghly in West Bengal.
Though the tortoise is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, their numbers have been dwindling in Indian rivers - a major cause for concern for wildlife activists. Regional in-charge of Zoological Survey of India Gopal Sharma said, “The population of tortoise is dwindling fast from rivers due to rampant smuggling. Turtles are natural scavengers and they help clean organic pollution from the river. If they disappear, pollution will rise further in rivers.”
The northeast districts are particularly affected by the problem, with smugglers and poachers using safe routes here to enter West Bengal. The forest department confirmed that the maximum number of seizures came from areas between Dhanbad and Dumka, and that a majority of the vehicles were on their way from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal.
Dumka CF MK Singh said they were in touch with forest officials in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to crack the whip on such operations. According to wildlife experts, tortoises are reared in large numbers in the Ganga and its tributaries in Uttar Pradesh, from where they are smuggled to Bangladesh.
Jharkhand wildlife board member DS Srivastava said, “The turtles are picked up from Uttar Pradesh and sent to Malda in West Bengal through Jharkhand, from where these creatures are secretly sent to Bangladesh or consumed locally.”
Some of the smuggled reptiles also find their way to Saudi Arabia and Southeast Asian countries in the form of food or ornamental items. The price of such contraband can range from `1,000 to `20,000 per kg in the international market.