Heavy consignment of Afghan tortoises recovered
Photos and text by Amar Guriro
KARACHI: Sindh Wildlife Department officials recovered a heavy consignment of around 550 Afghan tortoises or horsefield tortoises from a railway cargo compartment of Quetta-Karachi bound train, the Bolan Mail.
Pakistan Railways had officially registered the wooden boxes carrying these tortoises as normal cargo. The wildlife game party also arrested Daulat Khan for carrying these tortoises. Game Inspector Bashir Ahmed Sheikh said that his team received information that a person is carrying a heavy consignment of tortoises, so they raided and recovered the tortoises kept in two wooden boxes. “These tortoises were caught from the apple orchards and grape orchards of Quetta, Naushaki and other districts of Balochistan and were brought to Karachi through a train and were supposed to be sold in the local market,” he said.
Game Officer Adnan Ahmed said that, in the local market, a single Afghan tortoise is sold for Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 and based on these figures, the total cost of the tortoise consignment comes to around Rs 0.6 million.
Interestingly, the Pakistan Railways officially registered these animals as normal cargo. The records state that the cargo department of Pakistan Railways, Quetta officially registered the two wooden boxes under the registry No QA/KL/7285/2. “The Pakistan Railways must check before registering any cargo or box to see what it holds,” said Sindh Wildlife Conservator Hussain Bux Bhaagat.
The Afghan tortoises are also known as horsefield tortoise, as they have designs that look like horse hoof marks on their shells. The tortoises are found in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and some parts of China and another species of these tortoises are also found in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The Afghan Tortoise is round and small in size and their colour ranges from dull ochre to black. It is also known as the ‘Four-toed Tortoise’ because it has four toes on every foot.
Bhaagat said that traders are involved in collecting these tortoises in Balochistan and then bringing them to Karachi to sell in the local market. “In Karachi, fish aquariums have started keeping Afghan tortoises as showpieces while people also buy them as pets. Thus, slowly the market value of these tortoises is rising in the city,” he said. Another wildlife official said that these tortoises will be released in their natural habitant, however, the department’s high-ups have yet to decide the time and venue.
The trader, Daulat Khan, reveals another story that the recent worsening situation in Balochistan has put the endangered wildlife on risk. “I will never ever prefer to trade these innocent animals but what else can I do; I am educated but I am not getting any government job and, on the other hand, the price hike is increasing in the country, so I recently started trading these tortoises,” he said.
It is a universal fact that in any area affected by war, worsening law and order and an economic crisis, the environment and wildlife are the first sectors that are affected. In Baluchistan, the recent worsening law and order situation has badly affected the citizens there. Thousands of youngsters are unable to get government jobs and they resort to trading such endangered wildlife. “I would never ever prefer to catch and sell these tortoises if I get a job,” said Daulat Khan.
The Wildlife Department seized the tortoises and fined Daulat Khan Rs 2,000 for trading the animals and forced him to sign an agreement that he will quit capturing and trading tortoises and if he is caught again, he will pay Rs 0.5 million as a fine.
In another train raid, the wildlife department has recovered a sealed sack of around 17 kgs of dry endangered freshwater turtle meat that was brought from Balochistan to Karachi and was supposed to be exported.
Interestingly, no one was arrested during the raid. In the international market, a kilogram of freshwater turtle meat is sold at around Rs 25,000. “It is illegally exported; we conducted a raid and seized a sack full of the meat,” Bhaagat said, adding that the meat is usually exported to Thailand, China and other countries.