star tortoises
(Representational image) Illegal trade of star tortoises from India has become rampantNOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 490 Indian star tortoises were seized at Chennai harbour by customs officials on Wednesday, November 7. It is believed that the tortoises were about to be smuggled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia inside boxes.

On Wednesday night, customs officials found the two boxes unsupervised at Kasimedu harbour.

The tortoises were found accidentally when the customs officials were in search of two marijuana dealers, the New Indian Express reports. While on the chase, the two dealers jumped into the sea and escaped and the customs ended up finding the tortoises.

The star tortoises are said to have been transported from Andhra Pradesh. They were sent to Andhra Pradesh from Nagapattinam. They were supposed to be flown to Kuala Lumpur via Thai Air cargo. The tortoises were then handed over to the forest officials.

The export of exotic pets is prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

The tortoises are protected under both Schedule IV of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

However, due to its medicinal purposes and the rising popularity of having an exotic pet, many tortoises are exported mainly to the south-east Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand.