As many as 500 turtles were found dead in India's eastern Jharkhand state on Thursday January 14, three days after police released at least 5,000 tortoises seized from a lorry in the state's Dumka District in a dam.
The police seized 75 sacks full of tortoises from smugglers at a check point and handed the turtles over to the forest department earlier this week.
The forest department released the turtles in Mayurakshi River near Massanjore dam on January 11. However, scores of turtles were later found dead at the banks of the river in the district.
The area's Forest Department believes stress could be the major reason behind their deaths.
"Transportation stress, environmental stress and starvation may be the reason behind the deaths of turtles. It will be clear only after postmortem report. They were brought and kept here which may have changed their territorial behavior because this is a new place and it takes time to adjust," said district forest officer, Abhishek Kumar, on Friday (January 15).
A committee has been set up which will carry out an investigation into the matter.
Around 107 tortoises were counted as dead when the lorry was seized by state police. The truck driver and his assistant had managed to escape.
Tortoises are popular as pets, but are also eaten in parts of Southeast Asia.
Though some species of turtles can be legally traded, star tortoises are protected under Indian wildlife laws, which make it an offence to trade or transport them illegally.
Anyone found guilty can be jailed for up to three years or fined or both.