Visakhapatnam: A freak mishap of a van today led to an expose of smuggling of fresh water turtles to West Bengal where they are considered a delicacy.
Forest officials seized around 400 smuggled turtles when the van overturned on National Highway 16 near Jalagalamadum area under Anakapalli town police station limits in the district today, Forest Section Officer Anakapalli P Eswar Rao.
Smugglers had packed turtles in a van transporting fish in a bid to mislead checkpost staff. After the speeding van heading towards Visakhapatnam from Vijayawada overturned, its driver and assistant fled the scene.
Police and forest officials went to the spot and seized the turtles inside the van.
Though around 50 turtles died in the mishap, they managed to shift the rest to Indira Gandhi Zoological Park where zoo officials identified the species as Indian mud turtles (Lissemys punctata), which are protected under Schedule I Category of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Forest officials suspect turtles are being smuggled to West Bengal from where they are sent to Thailand and Malaysia by sea due to huge demand for turtle meat.
The seized turtles will be produced before a district court which is expected to issue a directive to release the species in their natural habitat in the district.
Forest officials have registered a case and special teams have been formed to nab the culprits.