Special Cargo: Air India Flies 63 Rare Turtles For Release To The Wild

On Thursday, Air India took on board some precious cargo on the way from Pune to Assam via Delhi. The airline carried 63 turtles of rare and endangered species from a rescue and preservation organization in Maharastra to be released into the wild. Meanwhile, the fate of most endangered animals who travel by plane is much more disquieting, with the illegal wildlife trade growing year by year.

Special Cargo: Air India Flies 63 Rare Turtles For Release To The Wild
Air India transported some rare Testudines on Friday on their way to be released into the wild.

While it is unclear exactly which flight the little shelled creatures took, Air India flew from Pune (PNQ) to Delhi with an Airbus A320 at 09:40 and 18:50 local time yesterday. The airline shared images of the loading process and the special boxes on its social media. If you look closely, you can see three little turtles nestled alongside each other in one of them.

The turtles are of different endangered breeds, such as Indian roof turtle, crowned river turtle, brown roof turtle, and spotted river terrapin, Business Today India reports. They were rescued by the Maharashtra Forest Department and the Turtle Survival Alliance and can all be found in their natural habitat in Assam.

This is the first time endangered turtles have made the specific journey by air, Rahul Patil, the Deputy Conservator of Forest for the Pune Division, shared with the news source.

Air India A320
Air India operates its A320s between Pune and Delhi. Photo: Getty Images

Fourth largest illegal trade by value

The story does not relate where the turtles were rescued from since they do not occur naturally in the wild in Maharastra. They may have been raised at the center. However, unfortunately, it may very well be that they were transported there as part of the illegal wildlife trade.

In 2018, over a thousand Indian star tortoises were seized in Kuala Lumpur in one sweep during a major operation by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and Parks, informed by the Hague-based NGO Wildlife Justice Commission. Two years ago, Malaysian customs officials seized 5,000 turtles from just two passengers.

According to ‘Runway to Extinction’, a 2020 report put together by the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership, the global illegal wildlife trade now ranks behind only drugs, human, and arms trafficking as the most lucrative international organized crime.

Special Cargo: Air India Flies 63 Rare Turtles For Release To The Wild
Qatar Airways’ cargo division participates in the ‘Rewild the Planet’ project, transporting trafficked wildlife back to their home for free. Photo: Airbus

Rewilding the Planet

It is not clear whether or not Air India charged for the cargo space and transportation of the rarities. It is quite possible, and we hope, that they took them along without invoicing anything. Meanwhile, in February this year, Qatar Airways committed to making its cargo services available to the ‘Rewild the Planet’ program.

As part of the carrier’s sustainability efforts under the banner ‘WeQare’, Qatar has promised to transport illegally traded and trafficked wildlife and animals back to their natural homes – free of charge.

How much do you know about the illegal wildlife trade? Do you think more airlines should create initiatives for rehoming animals and help preserve ecosystems worldwide? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.