KARACHI: In another major breakthrough, the wildlife department confiscated more than 300 live freshwater turtles on Thursday evening and arrested four men in Shaheed Benazirabad district.
Speaking to Dawn, officials said the turtles, identified as black pond species (Geoclemys hamiltonii), were seized during a search of a vehicle at a checkpoint within the wildlife sanctuary located in Deh Akro II.
“They were kept in 20 jute bags in the vehicle bearing registration no. KG-5414. A first offence report (FoR) has been registered,” said deputy conservator wildlife Shaheed Benazirabad division, Dara Munir Qazi.
The suspects were identified as Ghulam Rasool, Gul Mohammad, Saddam Mallah, and driver Babu Zardari, he added.
According to him, the suspects have been produced in the court of judicial magistrate of taluka Daur and the case will be taken up once the jurisdiction of wildlife cases is decided.
“It’s the first time that such a huge number of freshwater turtles have been seized in the district and we want that the offenders get strict punishment through the court, though the wildlife department has the authority to impose fines,” he explained.
All turtles were alive and being kept in the district wildlife office. “They would be released once we get court orders for the same,” he said.
To a question about how the offence was made in the wildlife sanctuary, he said that the suspects were transporting the turtles to Karachi via Sakrand through a deserted area called Mund Jumrao, the border area between Khairpur and Sanghar.
Chief conservator wildlife Saeed Akhtar Baloch said the case seemed to be part of the same ring exposed a few weeks ago in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) area of Karachi.
“The accused Saddam Mallah arrested in the present case is the first cousin of Sachey Dinno Mallah, who is already booked in a turtle offence case,” he said.
The accused were all fishermen and caught turtles while fishing in the water bodies of Shaheed Benazirabad and Sanghar districts.
“The accused Saddam admitted during investigation that he been supplying turtles to Chinese in Karachi for the last seven months,” he added.
It is noteworthy that 780 freshwater turtles, all black pond species, were confiscated in a major raid last month in the DHA area and the wildlife department arrested 12 people including three Chinese.
Investigations showed that the turtles were all trapped from the Chotiari Dam area in Sanghar. Two key wildlife traffickers, Pappu Punjabi and Nawab Khan, were declared absconders in the case.
The case is currently being heard in court.
All freshwater turtle species of Pakistan are endangered and protected under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan wildlife protection acts and are included in the revised Sindh Wildlife Protection Act.
According to experts, illicit wildlife trade of freshwater turtles is escalating in Pakistan as there have been a number of cases in which these animals, particularly the black pond species, have been confiscated in large numbers in recent years.
Poaching and smuggling of freshwater turtles due to their demand in East Asian countries, particularly China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Vietnam, has led to a significant decline in their populations, they believe.
“Freshwater turtles of Pakistan are found in the entire Indus River system including its tributaries, irrigation canals, ponds and water reservoirs. Pakistan has eight species of freshwater turtles which dominate aquatic habitats.
“Turtles play a significant role in aquatic ecosystem being scavengers; they are responsible for cleaning the aquatic environment by feeding upon dead organic material and diseased fish. Freshwater turtles being a keystone species also control the population of fish,” says the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan website.
Meanwhile in another case, six men were arrested in Mitiari, Hyderabad, who were using two falcons as bait while another two suspects were held with three peafowl chicks in a village in Mithi, Tharparkar district.
“They had kept the chicks in a large bottle and were transporting them to Mirpurkhas in a bus,” said wildlife official Ghulam Sarwar Jamali, adding that a FoR had been registered and the accused being kept in the wildlife custody would be fined.
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2016