In a bid to repatriate 800 Indian Star tortoises, which were seized while being smuggled out of the country, Tamil Nadu forest officials have sought the help of molecular biologists to identify their place of origin.

Two types of Star tortoises are present in the country – one set found in the Western parts in Gujarat and Rajasthan and the other type in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and also in the neighbouring island country, Sri Lanka. They are smuggled out of the country for use as exotic pets and delicacies.

Scientists from the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES), a facility of the Centre for Cellular and Biology (CCMB) here, have earlier enabled successful repatriation of around 1,500 Star tortoises which were confiscated while being smuggled out of the country. They compared the DNA sequence of animals from known location and found they belonged to the southern part in the country. Later, they were released in Andhra Pradesh.

Ajay Gaur, scientist from LaCONES told The Hindu that they collect either a drop of blood or a small piece of tissue to do a DNA analysis and determine their geographical location. He said the rescued animals would face survival problems if relocated in the wrong habitat. If an animal from the western part was released in the southern part, it would lead to mixing of races and loss of genetic purity.