Indian star tortoises
Indian star tortoises Reuters

A man, who was held at Woodlands Checkpoint on Jun 23, 2016 for smuggling 22 live star tortoises into Singapore, was sentenced to one month of jail term on Wednesday.

In a joint press release by the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) they said that the accused, Khalid Awad Bamadhaj, was arrested while carrying live tortoises, which the officials found in a cloth bag, which he hides in the car boot along with grocery bags.

During the investigation, officials identified those reptiles as the Indian star tortoises, which are considered as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These are usually found in north-western India (Gujarat, Rajasthan) and adjoining south-eastern Pakistan; eastern and southern areas from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and eastern Karnataka to Odisha (Orissa); and throughout Sri Lanka.

The reports said that investigators found that Khalid did not have a permit to import the tortoises. The findings also showed that the 50-year-old accused wanted to keep these reptiles as pets. The joint release stated that the rescued tortoises are now under the case of Wildlife Reserves Singapore. During sentencing, the court considered a charge of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to animals.

In addition, the joint release stated that the travellers are reminded that they are not supposed to import or keep wild animals as pets because such activities will be understood as illegal wildlife trade. It also stated that such animals are not suitable pets as some may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans and could trigger a safety risk if they mishandled or escape into our dense urban environment.

As per the IYCN Red List of Threatened Species,India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have chosen to adopt stricter domestic measures than CITES (WWF 1994). Indian star tortoise was placed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and for over 40 years it has been illegal to possess and commercially trade this reptile either within or from India.