Bangladesh intercepts dried turtle smugglers

BGB guards with sacks containing the dried turtles The size of the seizure has taken experts by surprise

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Officials in Bangladesh say they have seized more than 120kg (18st 5lb) of dried turtles from smugglers near the north-western border with India.

But the smugglers managed to escape after Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops gave chase in Dinajpur district.

"The dried turtles were being smuggled from India. This is the largest haul in the border region so far," BGB Lt Col Amirul Islam told the BBC.

Dried turtles can be used in soups and also in oriental medicine.

One kilogram of dried turtle costs around $140 (£88) on the international market.

Officials say there has been an increase in the smuggling of live animals and dried turtle through Bangladesh in recent months.

"I am quite surprised by the size of the seizure," said Richard Thomas, spokesman for the Traffic wildlife trade monitoring network.

"It raises the question, how many bags are getting through undetected?"

Mr Thomas said that if existing patterns served as a guideline, the dried turtles may have originated from north-eastern India to be sold in East Asia for medicinal uses.

The seized dry turtle meat Dried turtles are used in soups and in oriental medicine

According to Traffic, Asia's tortoises and freshwater turtles are being harvested in huge quantities to meet the demand for meat and traditional medicines, mostly in East Asia. The species are also in demand as pets.

Earlier this month, customs officials at Bangkok found hundreds of turtles, tortoises and gharial crocodiles packed in suitcases that came on a flight from Bangladesh.

In recent months, Bangladeshi officials also seized a number of protected wild animals within the country from individuals who were keeping them illegally.

"Bangladesh is becoming a transit point for illegal trafficking of wild animals from the region," Tapan Kumar Dey, conservator of forests with the Bangladesh Forestry Department, told the BBC.

"Traffickers are using our country's porous land borders with India to smuggle wild animals into Bangladesh and then transport them to South-East Asian countries," Mr Dey said.

Environmentalists say if the trafficking is not stopped then it could pose a threat to conservation efforts both in India and Bangladesh.

"The latest seizures illustrate that illegal trade is systematically wiping out Asia's freshwater turtles and tortoises," Mr Thomas said.

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