The Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force has rescued 6,430 flapshell turtles from Amethi and arrested Raj Bahadur Singh, the leader of the reptile smuggling racket, AFP reported. A spokesperson on Wednesday said the turtles were found stuffed in sacks in the accused’s compound in Gauriganj.

Additional Superintendent of Police Arvind Chaturvedi said “Wildlife authorities confirmed that this is the largest haul in the country’s wildlife history, both in terms of number and weight – 4.4 tonnes,” AFP reported. Turtle meat is used to produce aphrodisiacs, while their bones are used in traditional medicines.

Singh told the investigators that the turtles would have been sent to Kolkata, and then shipped off to China, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Bangladesh. US-based Turtle Survival Alliance’s Rachana Tiwari told AFP that the smaller turtles are sold for an average of Rs 1,000, while the larger ones are sold for Rs 8,000 for their meat.

The Turtle Survival Alliance is temporarily housing the rescued flapshell turtles, which are categorised as a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act. Chaturvedi told PTI that they are on the lookout for others involved in the racket.