The Forest Department on Sunday seized an Indian star tortoise from the baggage of a passenger, who had arrived from Coimbatore on Amritha Express, at Thiruvananthapuram Central railway station.
Three persons hailing from Pollachi in Tamil Nadu were arrested in connection with the seizure.
Acting on a tip-off received by the Forest Intelligence Cell, a team led by Range Officer C.K. Sudhish tracked Saravan, 24, Modilal, 27, and Malraj, 29, and seized the star tortoise weighing over one kg.
The tortoise was brought to the capital for sale by the three-member team. On questioning, the accused told the forest officials that they got the tortoise while bathing in a river at Aliyar. But, the forest authorities have not taken their statement at face value.
The tortoise, initially kept at the Forest headquarters, was handed over to the Partuthipally range. A case had been registered against the three persons under the Wildlife Act.
Geochelone elegans, the Indian star tortoise, is a highly prized specimen in illegal wildlife trade. Trade in star tortoise is banned under Appendix-II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. There have been several instances of seizure of star tortoises at the Thiruvananthapuram and the Kochi airports while these were being taken to aquariums and pet stores in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Their ornate pattern has made star tortoises popular among collectors around the world. Small-sized tortoises and hatchlings fetch a higher price in the black market. Forest officials said it was the first time that a big star tortoise was being seized.