KARACHI: More than 170 black spotted turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) confiscated at Jinnah International Airport Karachi last month were released on Thursday into Haleji Lake, a Ramsar site that was once Asia’s largest bird sanctuary, in Thatta.
The released turtles, 173 in number, were part of a consignment comprising 218 specimens found in the luggage of a passenger going to Bangkok. One man held by the customs was later handed over to wildlife officials along with the consignment.
Forty-five turtles died due to suffocation and injuries caused during their transportation. Subsequently, the Malir district court, where the case is currently being heard, ordered immediate release of black spotted turtles, a freshwater species, into their natural habitat.
Terming the event a big step towards conservation, provincial secretary of wildlife, forest and environment Naila Wajid Khan said: “The government is taking all possible measures to curb animal trafficking. The recent notification declaring black spotted turtles a protected species shows the government’s commitment to the cause.”
Capacity building and training sessions aimed at sensitising officials concerned to wildlife trafficking would be held, she added.
Sindh wildlife conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar said that turtles played an important role in maintaining ecological balance and harmony in the aquatic ecosystems.
Responding to a question regarding the turtle deaths during transportation, he said: “Mortalities occur during transportation. It’s a scientific fact as animals suffer a shock when they are taken out of their habitat and forced to live in an inhospitable environment.
“During the recent repatriation of 200 turtles from China, around 22 died when they were brought to Karachi,” he explained.
Replying to another question, he said that under the newly framed Sindh Turtles and Tortoises Rules 2014, a man found in possession of protected species would be fined between Rs85,000 and Rs90,000.
“The fine includes the value of harming a protected species, the cost of rehabilitating it and species’ environmental services,” he said and expressed the hope that the court would penalise the offender with two-year imprisonment and a heavy fine in the next hearing scheduled for October 4.
Project coordinator of World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan Uzma Noureen said that illegal trade of freshwater turtles had escalated due to higher market demand of the species over the past two years. From Pakistan, the species was found to be exported to China, Hong Kong and East Asian countries.
“These turtles, a vital part of the freshwater ecosystem, exist along the entire Indus River. They perform various ecological services and the entire ecosystem would be disturbed if they vanish from the system,” she said.
She emphasised the need for ensuring robust monitoring mechanism at exit points of all international airports and said that respective provincial governments should set up facilities to keep confiscated turtles.
There are eight different species of freshwater turtles found in Pakistan; five of which are globally threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The black spotted turtle 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.