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Navy arrest two while smuggling 2,089 Indian star tortoises in seas off Kalpitiya

The Navy arrested two persons, smuggling 2089 live Indian star tortoises, a rare and protected variety of tortoise, in the seas off Kalpitiya on Saturday evening.

“Following intelligence information, a group of naval personnel attached to the Northwestern Naval Command apprehended 2 suspects while smuggling 2,089 live star tortoises in a dinghy, in the sea area in between Ippantivu and Sinna Arichchal, Kalpitiya on Saturday evening. The suspects were smuggling these rare species of tortoises by illegal means from India” a spokesman for the Navy said.

"The apprehended suspects, star tortoises, dinghy and other items were brought to the naval base SLNS Vijaya in Kalpitiya and subsequently handed over to the Sinnapadu Custom Office for legal action," he added.

Navy believes the cute and minuscule Indian star tortoises; one of the most prized products in the international pet market was to be transported to another country via Sri Lanka. Also it is the first occasion the Navy has seized such a large number of star tortoise.

The Indian star tortoises have become the target of illegal traders as it has lucrative overseas markets particularly in America, some European countries, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and China, according to international news reports.

In some overseas exotic pet markets the Indian Star species could sell for price as high as US$1,000 each.

For centuries, in rural parts of India, star tortoises have been traditionally kept as pets in many homes, their owners believing that they bring good luck and fortune. The star tortoise is also regarded as a spiritual symbol in some religious sects.