By Sameer Mandhro
KARACHI: More than 700 black-pond turtles have been waiting for Sindh’s wildlife officials for nearly a month to bring them back home. So far they have been unable to do so as the wildlife department’s request is still pending approval.
Bring them back
On February 27, custom officials in Hong Kong intercepted a fishing vessel in its territory and seized around 751 turtles. They contacted their Pakistani counterparts immediately to inform them about what they had come across and asked them to collect the turtles as Hong Kong was not their country of origin.
A source claimed that since turtle smuggling was very common in Sindh, the federal ministry for climate change contacted the Sindh wildlife department and asked them to take action. The source added that the department had been unable do so as it did not have sufficient funds. Talking to The Express Tribune, the source confirmed that the turtles were from Pakistan and added that the smugglers had not been identified.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), the country of origin was responsible for collecting any birds or animals traded illegally. The black-pond turtles are natives of River Indus and are listed as an endangered species with Cites. Poaching, catching, trapping, netting, trading, transporting and exporting these turtles is strictly prohibited under the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972.
Smuggled over water
This is the second time foreign authorities have offered Pakistan the opportunity to collect its endangered turtles.
Last year, the Chinese authorities handed over 200 freshwater turtles to the wildlife department. According to a source, in 2014 the provincial government delayed bringing the turtles back due to financial constraints.
Provincial conservator Javed Ahmed Mahar said that they will go to Hong Kong as soon as their intra-department request was approved. He claimed that the department was not facing any other problems.
“The only reason causing the delay is the money,” said a department official, who did not wish to be named. “The department has no money and no other provincial department has shown any interest in helping out.”
Talking to The Express Tribune, Mahar said that they did not have any emergency funds but were waiting for the authorities to approve their request and provide the funding.
An official agreed with Mahar and said that the provincial government had never resolved the issues faced by the wildlife and forest department. He said that illegal trading of rare and endangered animals was an international issue and a proper mechanism needs to be adopted to avoid such things in the future.
Another official who wished to remain anonymous said that they did not need a lot of money but it would be useful if organisations who focus on protecting these turtles stepped forward to help the department.
What can be done
A source claimed that while there was no domestic market for black-pond turtles, there was a great demand for them abroad. In the last week of February, customs officials seized a consignment containing meat of over 4,000 turtles at the Karachi port. “We can’t deploy wildlife officers at every water body in Sindh,” said Mahar. “The only way to stop this illegal business is to keep an eye over the exit points.”