Thane forest department busted a gang of crocodile smugglers and seized two live endangered baby crocodiles from their possession on Monday.
Following a tip-off, the department carried out an operation during which it intercepted a tourist bus travelling from Hyderabad to Navi Mumbai.
The bus was passing through Borivali East on Monday night when officials stopped and searched it, leading to the discovery of the two hatchlings.
According to Thane Range Forest Officer Narendra Muthe, the two baby crocodiles were kept in cages inside a box stored in the luggage compartment of the bus.
The crocodiles were seized and sent for care-taking. They are currently at the forest department’s office and will be released in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park after the court’s order.
Meanwhile, three persons – bus driver M. Abdul Rahim Hafiz and Shivaji Baglaya, both from Hyderabad, and their associate Khuddos Latif Baig from Bidar in Karnataka – were arrested under Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
They were produced before a Magistrate Court in Borivali, which remanded them to police custody for three days.
The reptiles – known by their scientific name as ”Crocodylus Palustris” – are estimated to be worth between Rs 100,000-200,000 each in the grey markets.
“However, it is still not clear what is the real reason for smuggling these creatures over such a long distance by road from Hyderabad to Navi Mumbai, and what will be their ultimate fate,” Muthe said.
The Crocodylus Palustris is included in Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act and figures on the Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2014.
The ‘muggers’, as they are commonly known, are found in freshwater bodies or marshes of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Iran. They are poached for use as food, certain organs for medical purposes, and its skin is used for fashion apparels and accessories.
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