Wildlife rescue group sends 51 smuggled star tortoises home to India

Wildlife rescue group sends 51 smuggled star tortoises home to India

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An Indian star tortoise dubbed "Big Momma" feasts on some plants. (Photo: ACRES)

SINGAPORE: Fifty-one Indian star tortoises that were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Singapore embarked on a journey back home to India on Monday (Nov 26).

The repatriation exercise was carried out by animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), with support from the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Indian government and Wildlife SOS in India.

It is ACRES' largest mass repatriation of rescued animals to date.

"I couldn't wait for this day to come. It's been years of efforts that we've been putting in - not just to repatriate the tortoises, but also to ensure that they were in good health before we sent them over," said the group's deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal.

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ACRES founder and chief executive Louis Ng and deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan load tortoises for repatriation. (Photo: ACRES)

ACRES had been caring for the animals for eight years, while repatriation plans had been in the pipeline for more than two years.

The group added that the repatriation was a landmark event for India and Singapore and demonstrates their "strong commitment" to ending the illegal wildlife trade.

The tortoises will take a four-and-a-half-hour flight to Bangalore, India, after which they will be quarantined for a month in a protected area in Karnataka state.

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"Ben" the Indian star tortoise has a snack before the repatriation. (Photo: ACRES)

They will then be released into the wild, but have been microchipped to allow experts to continue monitoring them.

However, executing the project was no mean feat. Apart from logistical issues, the group said financing the project was a huge hurdle, as it required up to S$60,000.

In fact, the groups’ fundraising target was only achieved on Sunday, one night before the exercise was set to happen, according to Ms Boopal. 

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Indian star tortoise "Pappadum". (Photo: ACRES)

The bulk of this sum came from donations - such as the S$15,000 it raised on a crowdfunding platform.

"Even though the number of tortoises we are sending back is just the tip of the iceberg of illegal wildlife trade, we are thrilled that this has been made possible, thanks to support from the agencies and from individuals who have donated," she said.

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Indian star tortoises being loaded before the repatriation. (Photo: ACRES)

Ms Boopal added that the public can also do its part to root out illegal wildlife trade in Singapore by being the group's "eyes and ears on the ground".

She encouraged people to report any illegal wildlife trading activities that they may encounter online or offline.

The star tortoise is among the five most common types of illegal wildlife seized by AVA, along with hedgehogs, ball pythons, sugar gliders and leopard geckos.

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Indian star tortoises "Bingo" (left) and "Rattle" in their respective compartments before the repatriation. (Photo: ACRES)

Source: CNA/zl(hm)