Singapore has sent back 51 Indian star tortoises on a Singapore Airlines flight as they were illegally trafficked here as prized exotic pets. This is the largest number of Indian star tortoises coveted for their star-patterned shells – to be repatriated from Singapore, The Straits Times reported. Their striking, intricate appearances make them an easy target for poachers, who are often part of organised crime rings that profit from animal trafficking.
The lucky few saved by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) are just a fraction of the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 taken from the wild to meet the international demand for exotic pets, according to the Singapore daily.Acres has cared for the tortoises for more than eight years at its premises at Jalan Lekar in western Singapore.
The organisation has spared no expense to provide varied and tailored diets for the tortoises, along with intensive veterinary care and healthy environmental conditions to keep them fit for travel.Partner organisation, Wildlife SOS India, was to meet the creatures after their four-and-half-hour flight to Bengaluru.The tortoises will then be quarantined, monitored, tagged with transmitters and released into a protected reserve in Karnataka.
“I am relieved that these tortoises are finally coming back to where they belong,” The Straits Times quoted Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, as saying.The tortoises were rescued from a variety of places in Singapore, such as roadsides, local households, where they were ill-treated, and the briefcases of smugglers.
Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of Acres, said: “The odds never favoured us, but our perseverance and sheer will, together with support from Wildlife SOS India, paved the way for us to repatriate these animals.” She added that this is not the first time that star tortoises have been repatriated.
The Indian star tortoise is not native to or suited to living in Singapore, as it struggles to cope with the humid environment.The species is native to Gujarat and Rajasthan in north-western India, and a small area of south-eastern Pakistan, which are cooler, arid regions.
However, according to Acres, they are often kept illegally as pets in Singapore and not cared for properly. Owners often feed them supermarket-bought vegetables, which do not come with the calcium and vitamins required to keep their shells healthy.Little is known about how to best care for and feed Indian star tortoises, particularly about their diet.
The 51 kept at Acres were fed vegetables and flowers, with additional calcium and vitamin supplements.The organisation found that some of the tortoises were suffering from soft shells or organ failure, as their shells had not grown big enough to house their bodies.
It cost Acres SGD6,000 a month to care for the 51 tortoises and another SGD1,000 per tortoise to send them back to India in a special cargo crate.The Indian star tortoise is on its way to being listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one step down from “endangered”.
Acres’s Animal Crime Investigation Unit also probes and monitors the illegal wildlife trade in Singapore, working closely with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to tackle the issue, according to The Straits Times.