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Illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises

World Animal Protection has published information from wildlife experts about the illegal trade in Star Tortoises. It also details the size of the trade. You can read the blog post here.

Nature Conservation journal published the paper “A star attraction: The illegal trade in Indian Star Tortoises”. This paper reveals the shocking scale of trade in a species that has not been studied for ver a decade.

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An humble start to global trade

One man walks through an Indian village. He discreetly purchases Indian Star tortoises from the small village villagers as he travels. He has all the animals from this village in his non-descript rice bag and he is ready to move on to another village.

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Indian Star Tortoises in a sack

To get to this man has taken a lot time and effort. These communities are very close to each other and it is easy for outsiders to be noticed. The cover-story our investigators have in India allows them to spend time with him without being suspect. It took weeks to reach the illegal trader who is highly feared in these small villages.

The Indian Star Tortoises, who are clinging to each other in desperate, but futile, attempts to escape from their baskets and bags, will remain in darkness until reaching their destination. Our contacts have confirmed that the animals will be smuggled from India to Thailand, Dubai and Malaysia. We have contacts in Thailand so we will go there.

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Profits and losses

Profits increase as you move up the chain. Each tortoise is sold to traders for five to six times the price. Villagers get paid USD $1 per tortoise, while middlemen can sell them for $5 to $6. As we see tourists posing as tourists in a Thai market, the value of these tortoises skyrockets. Adult Indian Stars can be purchased for USD 260.

Under a heat lamp, Indian Star Tortoises

Vendors who sell tortoises legally in public markets are becoming more aware that they could be under investigation at anytime. Many of the vendors we encounter are hostile. Many have posted “f*** off, No photo!” signs on the windows of their shops. Others shut their doors and shout at us to stop taking photos.

However, not all vendors are aware of the controversy surrounding the work they do. One vendor admits that his stock comes from India, and gives us tips for how to get Star tortoises into Europe. This is an admission of guilt for being part of an illegal trade network. This species can be found at pet fairs across Europe for as low as USD $760. These tortoises could have been purchased for as little as USD 1 from the villager who collected them from the wild.

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Stop the cruel trade

Indian Star tortoises can bring in huge profits. One seizure of Indian Star tortoises in Bangkok, Thailand resulted in a consignment containing 521 tortoises, worth around $70,000 This is approximately $159 per animal.

Most shipments are not detected and the tortoises suffer. These tortoises are taken from the wild and smuggled across borders in horrific conditions to be sold as commodities to owners who have no idea.

An Indian Star Tortoise being held

We document illegal capture, illicit transport and sale of Indian Star Tortoises under often difficult circumstances. Our evidence is used to increase awareness of this issue within the wider research community. We provide evidence for papers such as “A star attraction: Indian Star Tortoises illegal trade”, published in Nature Conservation journal.

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However, we are limited in our ability to investigate the matter. The only ones who can stop this cruel and dangerous trade are the Indian and Thai authorities. We presented the intelligence and evidence we have accumulated over two years to Thailand and India’s law enforcement agencies. With our support, they will begin their own investigations to stop this trade and attempt to end it.

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