Yesterday, special intelligence lead to the interception of two seemingly unsuspecting produce trucks. Contained within them were shipments of onions. Beneath the onions, however, hid a shipment far more insidious: bundles of turtles. Lots of them.
Removing the mask of onions, authorities from Uttar Pradesh forest and police departments unveiled 502 turtles inhumanely encased in burlap sacks. Their destination: West Bengal, the southeastern most state of India where illegal turtle markets continue to proliferate. Here, softshell turtle meat, their calipee (yellowish material found inside the lower side of the turtle‚Äôs carapace), and fibrocartilage (leathery outer margin of the shell), are widely esteemed.
As soon as authorities notified our TSA India Program of the seizure, three of our team members‚ÄîArunima Singh, Sreeparna Dutta, and Dilip Kumar‚Äîrapidly departed our home base of operations in Lucknow to identify the assortment of species, and provide immediate care for the turtles. Of the 502 rescued turtles, our team identified and triaged 3 Indian Narrow-headed Softshells (Chitra indica), 2 Indian Peacock Softshells (Nilssonia hurum), 22 Indian Softshells (Nilssonia gangetica), and 475 Indian Flapshells (Lissemys punctata andersonii). On account of the quick response by authorities and our team, all but one of the turtles survived the harrowing ordeal.
Following their triage and health assessments, and court order in place, all the Indian Flapshell turtles were released amongst numerous locations along the Gomti River. The 3 other species of softshell, of which all are considered Endangered, were arranged in our rescue vehicle for transport to the Kukrail Gharial and Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (KGTRC) in Lucknow. In the early hours of this morning, our team members arrived back at the KGTRC with the rescued turtles safely in tote.
The endangered softshell turtles will be treated, quarantined, and incorporated into our assurance colonies for their species at the KGTRC. Here, they will not only benefit conservation efforts for their species, but also be safe from poachers aiming to profit from them.
You can help these rescued turtles by becoming a TSA Donor today!
Located in the Kukrail Forest near Lucknow, India, the TSA partners with the Endangered Species Project and Uttar Pradesh Forest Department to manage assurance colonies for several of India's endangered turtle species, provide long-term rehabilitation and care for turtles confiscated from wildlife trade (like these softshell species), perform scientific studies, and develop new research and conservation initiatives for Northern India.
We would like to thank the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, PCCF Wildlife Mr. Sunil Pandey, APCCF Mr. Sanjay Srivastava, CF Endangered Species Project Mr. Neeraj Kumar, DFO Amethi Mr. UP Singh, WLW Mr. Abu Arshad Khan, and RO Mr. RK Singh.
Photo credits: Arunima Singh and Sreeparna Dutta