Hyderabad: The anti-poaching squad of the forest department on Saturday nabbed two persons allegedly involved in wildlife smuggling and confiscated as many as 330 rare and highly endangered Assam roofed turtles.

According to M. Raja Ramana Reddy, the Hyderabad forest officer, an undercover operation was conducted following a tip-off that Assam roofed turtles, also known as Sylhet roofed turtle and Indian tent turtle, which fall under Schedule­I of the Wildlife Act were being brought into the city.

During interrogation, the two men revealed that the turtles were collected from Gomti river in Uttar Pradesh by their accomplices who in turn sent them to Hyderabad by train. The turtles, during the long train ride, were carried in a bucket and were transferred to a large plastic bag later. This freshwater turtle grows up to 18 cm and is found mostly in northeastern India and northeastern and southeastern Bangladesh.

The two men - Shiva Balak and Rahul Kashyap, residents of Bakhtiyarnagar in Lucknow - said they have been bringing turtles into the city regularly and selling them to local aquarium shops and pet shops to earn quick money. They sell a pair for Rs. 400 and the shops sell them to their customers for Rs. 800 to Rs. 1,000 a pair. Many shop owners believe that these are exotic Singapore or green turtles and have no idea that they are in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, the official said.

Mr. Ramana Reddy said most people who buy these turtles leave them in water bodies with no awareness that these are not local species. Since they would be invasive species, they could put the local flora and fauna in the water bodies at risk, he added.

The two arrested men were handed over to the custody of the forest range officer, Uppal.

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