Ignorance is a blessing, so better to be blessed. The authorities concerned are unknown to gruesome reality that large scale butchering of indigenous turtles and its illegal trade is on the rise in the waters of River Sindh and its distributaries during the last two decades, posing extinction threat to the species besides posing huge environmental degradation.
This was revealed by Uzma Noreen, Coordinator WWF-P and wild life defender during a media men trip to Sukkur, that was organised by WWF to highlight illegal turtle trade and killing. In Pakistan, there are 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, she said.
She said and added that all eight freshwater turtle species are listed in the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) 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. These turtles are found in the entire Indus river system.
During the briefing, she informed that the turtles paly a pivotal role for filling their tropic role in riverine ecosystems. Though no data available with the WWF and other institutions however the current population status of the species in Pakistan is unknown, though some past studies and surveys exist. Known as scavengers, the turtles feed on dead organic matter in the water and play a very important ecological role in cleaning water, she maintained.
WWF coordinator further said that if the turtles genocide and smuggling is continue with this sprit no matter Pakistan have to face big loss in the form of fish export business becouse turtles farming is not an easy job as it takes long period of time for maturity around 5 to 20 years. And, if allow such farming it would make it hard to verify which turtles are from farm and it will encourage illegal trade. The turtles are mostly smuggled include Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong and China from 1990. In these countries people enjoy turtle soup, jelly, meat and also used for medicines. She further told that certain communities in Dera Ismail Khan and lower Sindh also eat turtles secretly and sell their eggs.
As per data available with Department of Fisheries, the country’s total fish production stands at 400,000 metric tons per annum out of which 282,000 metric tons is produced by Sindh and remaining by other provinces. Ironically, fish production in the country has remained stagnant which needs attention to propel it and earn foreign exchange.
At the time of media briefing by WWF, the officials of the Sindh Wildlife department Sukkur told the media men that 200 black spotted turtle ((Geoclemys hamiltonii)) that were smuggled to China in June were brought back last month with the help of WWF-P and it is pertinent to be mention here that it was the first incident of Pakistan’s history when any smuggled consignment returned back. The street value of this consignment was estimated at Rs 30 million.These turtles were kept in a small green nursery’s pond at Dolphin Centre WWF ofiice Sukkur. These rescued hard-shell turtles will be released into their natural habitat as soon as the flood situation comes down.
Though the turtles are on ICUN’s red list but still are non protected specie in Sindh. However, in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa both the provinces declared it protced species in 2007.
Ms Noreen, who has done research on turtles trade informed the media to a question that the black spotted turtles that were smuggled to China internationally cost $1600 per animal and locally Rs 50-400 alive irrespective of animal’s size. The cost of eggs about 80 to 250 per kg or 5-10/egg.
She confirmed that the illegal turtle trade was going on in all the three provinces. However, “ Turtle smuggling and trade is a major threat to turtle survival in Pakistan that has brought a significant decline in their number over the years”, she emphases
It is reported that people catch turtles from canals and then keep them at their own water ponds for growth. The turtles are caught from Sukkur, Phuleli and other canals of Thatta, Hyderabad and Badin.
The Wildlife Department Sindh is not paying any heed for the protection of turtle generation in the lower Sindh. It is reported that these turtles are used for making medicines while people also eat their meat.
WWF also arranged field visit for media to talk about illegal trade in Sher Dil Meher village in Ghotki near Indus having some 190 to 100 thatch houses.
General secretary, Community Based Organization, (CBO) Muhammad Ali Mirani, , told the media that the WWF had been helping them an end to the illegal trade.
“If we see an incident catching turtles we at once report to the near by police station and local elders”, he claimed. “For six to seven years there has been no hunting of turtles in this area “, Mirani revealed.
Manzoor Ahemd an other CBO official told that earlier people used to kill turtles massively. They would use nets or poisonous rats to kill or catch them. Those turtles were later sold in the market against Rs400-Rs500 per kilogram.
Phelwan Meher of Gohtani Environmental Organisation said that Bhel and some other non muslim communites are involved in illegal hunting. They are mostly poor people and working on daily wages in suger mills fishing business. “For two to three years ago they used to take sacks full of turtles from this area. However, he said due to the WWF interventions and different awareness campaigns this practice had come to an end now”, Pehlwan explained.
WWF-P Communication Officer, Syed Abubakr told the visiting journalists that WWF was striving for turtle’s importance in aquatic ecosystem among the hunting communities, general public and religious leaders to controlling the trade. “Global Poverty Elevation Fund, WWF UK was also playing a pivotal role in livelihood improvement of Indus fishermen community”, he said.
(The article is also published in Daily The Pak Banker)