An international smuggler of rare species of turtles has been arrested by the Madhya Pradesh forest department’s special task force (STF), the force’s officials said.
A four-member STF team led by Ritesh Sirothia, STF (wildlife crime) in-charge, arrested Manivannan Murugesan from Chennai, brought him to Madhya Pradesh via a flight on Thursday and presented him before the special court at Sagar in the afternoon.
Turtle Smugglers List March 2017: Azad Singh, resident of Morena, arrested for turtle trafficking
May 2017: Nand Lal Mongiya, from Sheopur district, arrested for turtle poaching
June 2017: Ajay Singh arrested from Agra for turtle trafficking
June 2017: Sampatiya Batham, employee of irrigation department and resident of Sheopur, arrested in turtle poaching
June 2017: Vijay Gaud, resident of Gwalior, arrested for turtle trafficking
June 2017: Kamal Batham, resident of Sheopur, arrested for turtle poaching
August 2017: Ram Singh alias Bhola, UP resident, arrested for turtle trafficking
August 2017: Mohammad Iqrar, UP resident, arrested for turtle trafficking
September 2017: Kailash, resident of Morena, arrested for turtle trafficking
October 2017: Thameem Ansari, resident of Chennai, arrested for turtle trafficking
The court gave Murugesan to the STF on five-day remand, the force’s officials said.
Sirothia said Murugesan was wanted by STF, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Uttar Pradesh STF and Interpol for a long time. He was ranked third in the world in the illegal trade of rare species of turtles and was considered the kingpin of India’s illegal turtle trade market.
Murugesan’s name had surfaced first during the interrogation of Ajay Singh whom STF had arrested from Agra in June last year for smuggling Red Crown Rooted Turtle, the officer said.
Singh revealed the trafficking network of turtle smugglers across India. Smugglers took the rare turtles out of the country to Hong Kong and Singapore through two routes — via Chennai–Sri Lanka and Kolkata–Bangladesh.
Murugesan’s name surfaced again during the interrogation of wildlife smuggler Mohammad Irfan who was arrested by the STF in Kolkata few days back, Sirothia said.
Murugesan was a Singapore-based businessman and had illegal trade links in Thailand, Malaysia, Macau, Hong Kong, China and Madagascar, besides Singapore.
“His arrest will prove to be very significant in busting the international wildlife smuggling network,” he said.
On MP’s STF intelligence input, a smuggler, Thameem Ansari was arrested in October last year from Chennai. He was brought to the state for questioning. During interrogation, Ansari admitted his involvement in trafficking thousands of turtles from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Apart from Ansari, the arrest of over ten poachers and traffickers led STF to a bigger turtle trafficking network across the country. Sirothia said in September 2016 Ansari had come in his Mercedes Benz to Gwalior and Agra to collect 12 red-crowned roofed turtles.
India has 34 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises, out of which 10 species of turtles and one species of tortoise have been reported from MP so far.
The critically endangered Red-crowned roofed turtle is found mostly in Chambal river, which is one of the last viable habitats for this rare species.