By Sameer Mandhro
KARACHI: For the first time in the history of Pakistan, wildlife officials will take back the possession of 180 confiscated black pond turtles in an international ceremony to be held on the Pakistan-China border on August 18, The Express Tribune learnt on Thursday.
The turtles which were being illegally transported to China were confiscated by Chinese authorities about a month ago. The officials also arrested the four smugglers, including two Pakistani nationals.
Countless Pakistani species are being transported to other countries and it is for the first time that a neighbouring country has contacted officials to hand over the animals.
The origin of the wild turtles is in Sindh and wildlife officials say the turtles were caught from the Indus River. They would be released in the Indus River near Sukkur immediately after their arrival in the province. The black pond turtles are categorised as “vulnerable – high risk of endangerment in the wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Chinese authorities, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) laws contacted Pakistani officials and informed them to hand over the endangered species.
CITES is an international agreement between governments, which aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The agreement was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN.
“Smuggling of animals is an offence according to the CITES law and we are happy that our endangered turtles are being given back,” Sindh Wildlife Department’s provincial conservator, Javed Ahmed Mahar, informed The Express Tribune.
Mahar said that a delegation of Pakistani officials, mostly from Sindh, will attend the handing-over ceremony scheduled at the Khunjerab Pass – the Pak-China border – on August 18. “All legal formalities are almost done,” he added. Chinese officials informed the Federal Ministry of Climate Change’s IG Forest about the smuggled turtles who then contacted the Sindh wildlife department. Wildlife officials said that the arrested men would be punished according to Chinese law while the animals would be returned to their country of origin.
The Sindh wildlife officials believe that the cost of live turtles is almost equal to that of gold. They accepted that the turtles were smuggled due to flaws in the existing system. “It is really a bad practice that our animals are being transported illegally but we are thankful to the Chinese government for this handing-over ceremony,” Mahar said.
Though provincial officials said that all legal formalities are done and the federal government is also involved in the process, officials claimed that the Sindh wildlife department is facing financial issues in attending the international event. “There are some financial constraints and finalising arrangements for the ceremony on time seems difficult,” an official told The Express Tribune. “Different organisations are working on animals’ rights but aren’t coming forward to help the government when it is in need,” the official maintained.