Reptiles were seized at airport on Tuesday, housed at private vet clinic

Two days after the seizure of 9,000 baby tortoises by customs officials at the airport, shocked animal welfare activists have found that fewer than 800 have survived.

Airport officials had seized the tortoises from a passenger who had come in from Kuala Lumpur, and was attempting to exit through the green channel. Activists said the red-eared slider tortoises, which were just a few days old, were stacked one on top of another and packed into three cartons, with no provisions for aeration or food.

The tortoises had been bought by a city resident, who deals in the wholesale trade of pets.

The tortoises were handed over to State wildlife authorities, who later housed them a private veterinary clinic in Guindy. Even at the time of their being handed over, 1,500 died, and the wildlife authorities only received 7,500 live tortoises.

Activists said they were surprised by the authorities’ move to house the surviving tortoises at the private clinic, instead of taking them government’s quarantine centre in Medavakkam, as per government norms.

At the private clinic, the tortoises were kept in tubs, with each tub containing more than 300 tortoises, they said.

They pointed out that this was not the first time such a huge number of red-eared slider tortoises have been brought to Chennai.

A similar consignment arrived here about a year ago, and then too, the tortoises had been taken to the same private clinic in Guindy instead of to the quarantine centre.

Allowing the import of exotic animals to be reared as pets will lead to problems for endemic or native species. Moreover, pet owners become afraid once the tortoises grow older, an activist said.

When they find it difficult to find a suitable home for their pets, many owners end up abandoning them on the roads, he added.

Noted conservationist Shekar Dattatri said: “This seizure has revealed the extent of the illegal trade in this and other non-native species that are smuggled into the country. Many people buy these turtles to keep them as pets, or because they believe that keeping one brings good luck. What they probably do not realise is that for every turtle that survives the journey to India, hundreds die in the tightly-packed containers in which they are smuggled. I appeal to people not to buy exotic species like these turtles, as it encourages a very cruel trade.”

Graphic points

9,000 baby red-eared slider tortoises were seized by Chennai airport officials on Tuesday

The passenger who was carrying them had got them in China, and flown in to Chennai from Kuala Lumpur

They had been stacked one on top of the other, in three cartons

Of the 9,000, less than 800 are currently alive

Each baby tortoise was about three inches in sizw

The tortoises get their name from the distinctive red patch of skin around their ears

They are semi-aquatic reptiles, and very popular as pets

They can live for up to 30 years

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