KARACHI: World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) with the support of Sindh Wildlife Department has successfully retrieved 200 black pond turtles illegally poached and smuggled to China. The Chinese authorities were instrumental in confiscating the consignment of hard-shell turtles arriving from Pakistan.
There are eight different species of freshwater turtles found in Pakistan, five of which are globally threatened species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red List.
All eight freshwater turtle species are listed in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendices I and II and their import and export without a legal permit is prohibited. Countless species including turtles are illegally poached and exported to other countries especially China and East Asian countries. However, it is for the first time the animals have been recovered alive from the poachers and repatriation of the turtles has taken place.
The turtles were handed over to Pakistan in a friendly ceremony conducted at the Pak-China Border at Khunjerab Pass. Uzma Noureen Coordinator Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project also a member of the IUCN Tortoises and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group accompanied Pakistan’s delegation of Sindh forest and wildlife officials to bring back the turtles to Sukkur.
The rescued turtles would be released into their natural habitat after being rehabilitated. A media briefing was held at the Indus Dolphin Conservation Centre Lab-e-Mehran Sukkur where wildlife officials briefed the media regarding the positive development.
Uzma Noureen said, “Illegal trade of body parts of soft shell turtle species has been reported since year 2000. A number of consignments have been confiscated in the past by the wildlife and Customs authorities in Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad and at Pak-China border in Sust.
All of these consignments comprised withered frozen meat of turtles or body parts of soft shell species. These are used as food and in traditional medicines. This is however very alarming to see now the hard shell species are also being targeted in illegal trade for sale as pets.
Javed Ahmed Mehar Chief Conservator Wildlife Sindh Wildlife Department who led the team to China appreciating the role of WWF-Pakistan for turtle conservation said, “It was not possible without the support of WWF-Pakistan and I believe everyone should join hands for conservation of the unique biodiversity of Pakistan.”
The freshwater turtles are found in the entire Indus River system, which proves to be beneficial for the ecosystem, as they feed upon dead organic material, diseased fish and clean up the water resources.
Turtles in Pakistan face multiple threats due to habitat degradation, scarcity of water, pollution and the biggest threat to its survival is from illegal trade to different countries on commercial scale. CITES is an international agreement between governments. It aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN. Pakistan is also a signatory of CITES since April 1976.
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