Forest officials bungle: Seized turtles are ‘common house pets’

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The CID forest cell of the state police may have egg on its face after one of its celebrated sleuths allegedly got his facts wrong and booked a man for illegal possession of a turtle variety. It has now emerged that the turtle species is not covered under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. In fact, it’s a common household pet.

Following a tip-off, forest officials led by President’s medal-winner Ananthaiah arrested 26-year-old Lawrence Xavier on May 22 and booked him under various sections of the IWPA for possessing 50 red-eared slider turtles. A spot mahajar and an FIR (a copy of which is with Bangalore Mirror) says Lawrence was trapped while trying to sell the turtles brought from Chennai to Bangalore. Though Lawrence , a resident of Kushalnagar, near Suhas Bakery in Kengeri who owns an aquarium shop in the city, was released on bail the same day, the CID forest cell submitted in court that he had violated the IWPA by illegally trading in the turtle species.

“This is a classic case of mistaken identity as the CID forest official, who is supposed to have been decorated with the President’s medal, has slapped a case under various sections of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act when the seized reptiles __ red-eared slider turtles _ are not even listed in the Act,” said Sharath R Babu, honorary wildlife warden, Bangalore Urban.

‘Serious error of judgment’

Other wildlife experts too say forest sleuths have made a serious error of judgement. Because though the red-eared slider turtles fit the exotic tab, they’re definitely not a protected species. It’s the Indian star tortoise that is listed in the IWPA.

“The mention (by forest sleuths) is incorrect in the FIR and complaint. The seized turtles currently under our care are red-eared slider turtles which are not listed in the IWPA,” C Kishan, wildlife expert and manager, People for Animals (PFA), told Bangalore Mirror.

Taking a jibe at the forest officials, experts say if their contention is true, they’re going to have their hands full conducting raids on the thousands of homes which have these turtles as pets.

Ananthaiah’s complaint at Kengeri police station states the seized reptiles were tortoises (testudinidae) which are protected under serial number 15 of schedule IV of the IWPA. Lawrence has been charged under various sections of the forest Act.

The forest cell sleuth maintains Xavier was charged only after thorough verification of facts. “We have done nothing wrong. Every detail was checked. The red-eared slider turtle is protected under schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act,” Ananthaiah, sub-inspector, forest cell, told Bangalore Mirror.

He is backed by his bosses too. When asked how IWPA provisions could be invoked for an exotic species, Arun Chakravarthy J, inspector general of police, forest cell said, “We seized the animals as they are not turtles but tortoises. Tortoises come under the purview of schedule IV of the IWPA and our department is empowered to register a case and conduct arrests.”

Were officials misled?

“Red-eared slider turtles are not listed in the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. One can’t book a case under the IWPA for an exotic species that is not listed in any schedule of the Act,” S Narayanan, regional deputy director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau told Bangalore Mirror.

He added that he was yet to talk to the enforcement officials about the case. “Either the officials were misled or they mistook the identity of the turtle species. Further investigation will reveal the true picture,” he said.

Turtles will soon be released

The turtles, currently in the care of People for Animals (PFA) rehabilitation centre at Kengeri, will soon be released. “We had sought the court’s permission to release the red-eared slider turtles as 15 of them have died. The court has granted it,” G Appurao, deputy conservator of forests, Bangalore Urban told Bangalore Mirror.

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