KARACHI: Fifty-four freshwater turtles that had been trapped by poachers near a canal in a Larkana village were rescued by a wildlife department team in a late evening raid on Wednesday, sources told Dawn.
The species has been identified as the (endangered) Indian soft-shelled turtles. “The turtles were caught by poachers near Gerelo village in Bakrani taluka. The department had been looking for these poachers for past two months,” said Dara Munir Qazi, deputy conservator of wildlife, Larkana division.
Four suspects had been arrested and a case would be registered, he added.
According to wildlife officials, it is the first such case in two to three years in Larkana. Earlier, cases of freshwater turtles’ trapping and killing were reported in Sukkur.
“It’s very vulnerable time for poor turtles as lower water levels in canals in this dry season expose them to hunters,” Qurban Ali Sheikh, in-charge of the raiding party, explained, adding that turtles being kept in the Langh Wildlife Sanctuary would be released tomorrow into their habitat with deep water.
Eight species of freshwater turtles are found in Pakistan and their habitat exists in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Their population, particularly in Sindh and Punjab, has dropped by 80 per cent in recent years mainly due to their illegal trade.
Experts describe loss of these endangered reptiles as devastating for environment as turtles are among the key species which keep aquatic environment clean by feeding upon dead organic material and fish carcasses.
Recent surveys conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in collaboration with Sindh wildlife department have identified districts of Thatta, Sujawal, Sanghar, Shaheed Benazirabad (Nawabshah), Badin and Karachi as hotspots of illegal turtle trade in Sindh.
These field surveys also showed that some poachers during their hunt for turtles also catch other reptiles and mammals that they may encountered, for instance snakes, monitor lizards, hedgehogs, jackals, jungle cats, otters and crocodiles.
According to wildlife department officials, there is no defined season for collecting freshwater turtles and the species is caught throughout the year.
Freshwater turtles caught in the interior districts of the province, they said, were destined for Karachi, from where they or their body parts were smuggled to other countries such as Hong Kong, other parts of China, South Korea and Vietnam (via air or sea routes).
Some traffickers, they said, had extended their network to Quetta, and used the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to smuggle wildlife through illegal means.
Factors contributing to the loss of these species included ignorance among locals, particularly fishermen, about the ecological role the turtles played in the river ecosystem, degradation and destruction of habitat.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2020