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Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 17:17 GMT
Animal smuggling ring broken up
Seized tortoises The tortoises have distinctive star-shaped markings

By Habib Beary in Bangalore

Police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka say they have confiscated hundreds of rare animals and birds, many of them endangered species following a raid earlier in the week.

The Inspector General of Police, ST Ramesh, said that officers of a special branch of the Karnataka police force, known as the forest unit, found more than 600 star-crossed tortoises and five Alexendrian parakeets in a raid on the house of a suspected smuggler.

Alexandrian parrot Five rare parrots were seized
Police say the man owns a shop in the local market specialising in the sale of rare birds.

Police say he was probably attempting to ship the tortoises to Europe and Japan - where there is much demand for their meat.

One report said two other men had also been arrested.

International market

Although the price for a tortoise on the Indian black market is little more than one dollar, a tortoise fetches much more on the international market.

"According to wildlife experts, these tortoises have a market in countries like Korea, Japan, US and Mexico, where they are sold for $60 to $200 a piece. So there is an international market," Inspector Ramesh said.

Police say they are investigating the role of the suspect in a wildlife export racket.

Accused One of the accused is reluctant to talk
In the last year, the forest unit recovered ivory, leopard skins and shatoosh shawls (made from the wool of an endangered antelope) worth almost $2m.

Smuggling centre

Observers say Bangalore has become a centre for wildlife smuggling as it is located near thickly forested areas in the adjacent states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

They say that the only way to control the illegal trade is by making such police cells more efficient in their operations.

Wildlife expert Sudarshan Sridhar said reptiles and birds were now endangered due to poaching.

"They have a crucial role in environment, they play a crucial role in the web of life. Unfortunately, they have become very rare due to intensive habitat destruction, pollution and poaching," he said.

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See also:
09 Jul 99 |  Asia-Pacific
China cracks animal scam
19 Mar 99 |  Africa
Ivory heads for Japan
05 Apr 98 |  World
Environmental crime - a global problem

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