By Faiza Ilyas
KARACHI: Sindh wildlife department staff foiled an attempt to smuggle out more than 200 black pond turtles, a freshwater species, to Bangkok at Karachi airport on Saturday morning. This was the second major seizure of turtles within two months.
Sources said the species (Geoclemys hamiltonii), also known as spotted pond turtles or the Indian spotted turtles, were found in the luggage of a man who had arrived from Lahore a day earlier.
The species is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and, therefore, cannot be bought or sold internationally.
“The suspect, identified as Sajid, had boarded the flight and was seated in the plane when he was taken into custody. The turtles were found inside two suitcases in cloth bags cushioned with wet foam. One of a total of 218 turtles was dead,” said Adnan Hamid Khan, Game Officer, In-charge of License Branch, Sindh wildlife department.
Mr Khan said the suspect belonged to Gujranwala and, according to him, the consignment was ordered by an official of Pakistani embassy in Bangkok.
He said that an FIR would be lodged as soon as the accused and the consignment currently being kept at the air freight unit were handed over to the department.
“Airport authorities might have failed to notice the turtles as the reptiles pull back their heads and legs into their shells when they sense danger. They appeared lifeless when we discovered them but as soon as they were released into a bucket of water, they ventured out their heads and legs and started moving,” he said.
Sindh Wildlife Conservator Javed Mehar said the seizure was a major achievement which showed that officials were actively pursuing cases of wildlife trafficking.
“The Sindh government has now notified all the eight freshwater turtle species found in Pakistan as protected and have included in the Schedule II of the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance 1972,” he said.
The species had been declared protected following an important seizure of 200 black pond turtles which were smuggled out of Sindh to China and were confiscated by Chinese authorities last month. Two Pakistanis and five Chinese poachers were held. Later, the turtles were handed over to Pakistani authorities.
The department plans to release the turtles into their habitat on Monday. They are presently being kept at the Indus Dolphin Centre in Sukkur.
Eight different species of freshwater turtles are found in Pakistan — five of them are globally threatened species — namely Indian soft-shell turtle, Indian peacock soft-shell turtle, Indian narrow-headed soft-shell turtle, Indian flap-shell turtle, black spotted (pond) turtle, Indian roofed turtle, brown roofed turtle and crowned river turtle.
All these species are listed in the CITES Appendices I & II that means their import and export without a legal permit is prohibited. These turtles are found in the entire Indus River system.
Wildlife dept lacks place to lodge suspects, animals
The seizure, according to the sources, once again highlights the need to expand and strengthen the network of the wildlife department.
Unlike other countries where wildlife officials have the authority to check passengers, the staff of the wildlife department is prohibited to do so.
The department lacks a proper place to keep suspects till they are produced in courts and has no sanctuary to lodge confiscated wild animals till they are released into their habitat.
“The police officers make different excuses to avoid keeping suspects in custody, though we request them in writing and it’s their official duty to do so,” said a senior wildlife official.
The government needed to increase the department’s budget and approve the new updated wildlife law without further delay, he added.
The information gathered from the Internet shows that illegal turtle trade is thriving in the region and its hub is Bangkok. Eighty-eight black pond turtles destined for Bangkok were seized at Chennai airport in August this year and 230 endangered Hamilton turtles which were smuggled from India were seized at Bangkok airport.