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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Indian tortoises fly home
Star tortoises are used as food in parts of India
More than 1,800 endangered star tortoises are being flown home to India from Singapore.

Airport officials in the southern Indian city of Madras said the smuggled tortoises were expected to land on Thursday evening.

The Singapore authorities decided to repatriate the tortoises following discussions with their counterparts in India.

Singapore Airlines are laying on the flight free of charge.

The star tortoises are reported to have been confiscated in three smuggling cases this year.

According to the AFP news agency, 1,092 of the 1,830 tortoises were seized from an Indian national at Singapore's Changi Airport late last month.

The man was fined nearly US$3,000, jailed for eight weeks and ordered to pay more than $10,000 towards the "care and repatriation of the creatures", AFP said.

Threatened species

Although the star tortoise is listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, they are sold openly in many pet shops in Asia.

They are also a source of food in parts of India.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is contributing $2,500 towards other expenses incurred during the repatriation.

Nearly 2,500 star tortoises are reported to have been smuggled into Singapore in the last four months.

About 600 died before they could be sent back to India.

Two kinds

There are two distinctive types of star tortoises in India.

Those found in northern states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are very large and have a relatively dark colour.

But in the south - Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka - they are much smaller and coloured creme-yellow with jet black markings.

In India, the tortoises are consumed almost exclusively by people on very low incomes - often members of tribes.

Fast depleting forest reserves and high consumption of the species have led to concerns that the species may soon become extinct in India.

See also:

17 Sep 00 | South Asia
08 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
22 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
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