KARACHI: Illegal wildlife trade continues unabated in the city as the wildlife department seems to lack the ‘muscles’ needed to take action against such activities, it emerged on Monday.

The trade involves spiny-tailed lizards (locally called Sandha) and marine turtles, both species protected under the law; one was found on sale in Saddar while the other in Clifton recently.

“The lizards (Uromastyx hardwickii) are only for display so people can see that we got the special lizards and the oil on sale is one hundred per cent genuine,” said Umer Ustad, a street vendor found engaged in the sale of spiny-tailed lizards outside the city courts on Monday.

The oil, he claimed, was an aphrodisiac and provided relief in muscle and joint pain, and internal and external injury. “My father was the one who started this business and I took it up after his death,” he said.

Ustad had on display many small bottles of varying sizes that he was selling that ranged from Rs100 to Rs400.

“We catch lizards from the area near Hub chowki. I don’t think their number is decreasing. So many people die every day but you can see that the human population is only increasing,” he argued, when asked whether he had observed a reduction in the lizard population.

He refused to answer any more questions but had no reservations with his animals being photographed.

Sharing his observations, Syed Mohammad Shamim Fakhri, who has done extensive field work on reptiles and remained associated with the defunct Zoological Survey of Pakistan (later merged into the Marine Biological Research Laboratories), said that the lizards were widely hunted for their fat which is said to have aphrodisiac properties.

“They are caught either with the help of traps or by digging their burrows. Some hunters, however, used water to drive the lizards out of their holes,” he explained.

Two types of spiny-tailed lizards are found in Pakistan; Uromastyx hardwickii (local name Sandha) is found in desert areas all over Pakistan while the Uromastyx asmussi (endemic to Balochistan) is extremely rare.

According to experts there is no scientific evidence to show that the lizards have aphrodisiac qualities.

Turtle sale

A pair of green turtles was recently found on sale on a street near the junior section of Karachi Grammar School in Clifton. They were purchased by a teacher who safely released them into the sea a day later.

“I purchased them for Rs1,500 from a street vendor. He normally sells fish there but on that day he was selling a pair of turtles,” Meera Hassan told Dawn, adding that she reported the incident to the wildlife department but received no reply.

No official of the department was available to respond to these two cases.

The largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) has one of their important nesting grounds along the beaches of Pakistan.

Other turtle species found in Pakistan are: Hawksbill turtle (critically endangered), loggerhead turtle (endangered), leatherback turtle (rare and endangered) and olive Ridley turtle (endangered).

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2016

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