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Over 6,000 endangered turtles seized in Uttar Pradesh

New Delhi, Jan 11 (AZINS) In one of the largest catches, third this year, as many as 6,430 endangered soft shell and flap shell turtles were seized in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, officials said.

The turtles were bound for West Bengal. Previously two such huge seizures were effected in West Bengal where over 1,600 soft shell turtles were caught from the interstate smugglers, who hailed from Uttar Pradesh.

The turtles were seized from Amethi district by the state police's elite Special Task Force (STF), and one trafficker was nabbed but two others fled, officials disclosed on Wednesday.

On interrogation, the arrested man confessed that he was part of a larger interstate wildlife trafficking network.

"This is a big network and active in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. We suspect about three dozen people in the supply chain of the UP kingpin. The network is active around the plains of Ghaghra and Sarayu river and their tributaries," Arvind Chaturvedi, who heads the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force (STF), told IANS.

The officials believe that the turtles were to be consumed in West Bengal where demand for turtle meat is huge. Some were also to be trafficked outside India, where they fetch high prices.

"Normally, they are for both purposes, for eating and Feng Shui. The small turtles are often supplied to China, Thailand and Myanmar for Feng Shui or Chinese medicine. The larger ones are supplied to Kolkata and Bangladesh for eating," Chaturvedi said.

The Uttar Pradesh STF has previously tipped off the West Bengal Police, leading to the seizure of over 3,000 soft shell turtles in past three weeks.

"We had identified some big leagues in this network in West Bengal. These are some white-collar people who don't go out in the field. Soon this network will be broken," Chaturvedi told IANS.

The turtles are under care of the state forest department and will be released back into their natural habitat.

"We will have to see how we release them as we can't release such a huge number in a single large pond," a top official from the state forest department told IANS.

Animal welfare organisation Wildlife SOS has extended its assistance to the forest department in rehabilitation of these turtles.

"We commend the STF for intercepting this consignment. These turtles are mostly traded for body parts believed to have medicinal properties. These turtles are protected under Indian law," said Kartick Satyanarayan, CEO of Wildlife SOS.

On the night of January 1, as many as 1,625 Indian soft shell turtles were seized from Burdwan district in West Bengal by the state police and four persons were arrested.

Sujit Kumar Das, Additional Divisional Forest Officer of Burdwan, told IANS that it was the second such catch in the state that week -- 1,850 soft shell turtles, being trafficked from Uttar Pradesh, were seized in the same district on December 29, 2016.

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