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Turtle trade in India: Calipee costs USD 500 per kg in the international market
Turtle trade is one of the biggest threat to turtles in India. Last week, in two separate incidents, around 5000 and 2000 turtles were rescued on Monday and Wednesday respectively along the Bangladesh border establishing the existing threat to turtles. ''In the last 10 years or so, turtle trade has increased by 60 - 70 per cent for some species, while some species have also disappeared from the market as well,'' said Dr. Shailendra Singh, Country Director for Turtle Survival Alliance.

There are primarily three kinds of turtle trade system that exists in India - pet trade, flesh trade and calipee trade. The biggest concern does not lie in flesh trade, as it has reduced considerably. Turtle meat was available in the market at around Rs 100- 150 per kg. It was sold in some open markets of Kolkata, but presently, there are no open market for turtles. Very few indulge in this trade, even if they do, it takes place secretly. Still, Kolkata is considered to be notorious for turtle trade. But, the bigger problem lies in Calipee trade, which the authorities have still not been able to bring to halt. Calipee is the material found inside the lower half of a turtle's shell.

A turtle weighing 30 kgs can consist of two kgs of Calipee. But, after the calipee undergoes processing , the weight of the calipee is reduced to one kg, which costs around Rs 3000 per kg in India. The calipee is mostly transported to Bangladesh through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border, after which it is exported to other countries. The calipees are so throughly cleaned that the authorities also fail to spot it. "They process it so well that it becomes transparent, which transporters claim to be a buffalo horn or fish scales when they are questioned by the authorities,'' said Dr. Singh.

As soon as the calipee hits the shores of Bangladesh, the price soars to Rs 12,000 per kg with the involvement of various middlemen. The story does not end there, as these calipees are traded to other foreign countries from Bangladesh. ''It is primarily exported to China, as the Chinese use it for traditional medicinal purposes. Chinese state that turtle products give them longevity, which is of course not true,'' said Chaitra Baliga, Program Executive, Indian Turtle Conservation Program.

Most of these turtles are caught in the Indo-Gangetic basin. Some of them being - Indian narrow head soft shell turtle, Indian flapshell turtle and the Gigantic soft shell turtle. ''These species of turtles are also found in Bangladesh, as it is the same river system,'' said Chaitra. Coming to India, due to the economic condition of the fishermen, they catch turtles with the hope of making some extra bucks, though they are aware about its illegal aspect. The fishermen use fishing nets and turtle traps besides manual collection in case of land-dwelling tortoises. These fishermen are those who have been catching turtles from generation to generation.

The authorities have put their best feet forward to curb such illegal trade, but have failed in this regard. The Indian Turtle Conservation Program has been working towards educating the poachers, primarily fishermen about the importance of turtles. ''We try to bring awareness and tell the poachers as to why and how are turtles important in the ecological system. We also educate them about turtle poaching as an illegal activity,'' said Chaitra.

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