A large number of tortoises released in a dam after being seized by the police from a truck in Dumka district on January 11 have turned up dead on the shore of Mayurakshi River in the district. Their number could be in hundreds.
The police said that over three thousand tortoises, apparently being smuggled from somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, were being taken to West Bengal when they were seized and handed over immediately to the forest department.
The Forest Department officials said that they were assessing the exact situation and attributed the deaths to the fact that the tortoises were kept in highly suffocating conditions. The officials said that the number of dead tortoises could be in hundreds, though an exact count would take some time.
Dumka Superintendent of Police Vivek Shukla said that a truck was seized by the force at Dumka police station on January 11 on suspicion. “The truck appeared to be carrying haystack. It was only when it was brought to the police station and a check started that we came to know of the tortoises packed in gunny bags and hidden beneath a tarpaulin over which the haystack was kept,” said Shukla. A case under Wildlife Protection Act was registered in this regard.
The police removed the tarpaulin to find more than nearly 100 such bags with 30-35 tortoises kept in those bags. Shukla said that the total number of tortoises could be in the range of 3,500. “We immediately realised that the tortoises were packed in very poor condition and handed them over to the forest department officials. They took a decision to release them immediately in the waters of Massanjore dam to enable them to survive. Now, we are getting reports that many of them have died and turned up ashore,” said Shukla. It was the locals who spotted the dead tortoises washing ashore, who alerted the police this morning.
Incidentally, the truck driver and his assistant managed to escape even before the police could realise that tortoises were being carried in the vehicle. “The driver and the assistant managed to sneak out on some pretext, even before we realised that they had kept tortoises in it. The truck owner is being traced. It appears that the truck was headed towards West Bengal. Further investigations are on,” said the SP.
Massanjore, a 155-feet high dam construct with Canadian aid in 1955, is built on Mayurakshi River, which originates from Deoghar and meets Hooghly in West Bengal. The River is known to have good volume of water in the dry season, while causing havoc during the rainy season.
Dumka Regional Chief Conservator of Forests F B Singh said: “We had to shift the tortoises immediately in a pollution-free environment. That is why they were released in Massanjore dam, where there is adequate water. We do not know for how many days these tortoises were kept in the truck. Obviously, they were kept in inhospitable conditions. It is possible that some of them were already dead, when seized. I have called a meeting of all the officials concerned this evening to assess the situation and take further action. Our effort would be to try and save as many of them as possible. Detailed post-mortem reports would reveal more on the cause of deaths.”