ON Wednesday, the Sindh Wildlife Department rescued 54 Indian soft-shelled turtles from poachers in Larkana after a two-month search. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the freshwater turtle is listed as a threatened species, and is subject to international trade controls. The rare snout-nosed reptile is only found in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and it is essential to the river ecosystems of the areas it inhabits. Pakistan hosts eight species of freshwater turtles and five marine turtles — all are protected under the wildlife conservation laws. Tragically, despite being one of the most ancient animals on earth, their numbers are fast dwindling due to rampant illegal trade; harmful fishing practices and misconceptions; water scarcity, mismanagement and pollution; and the steady loss of habitat. The proliferation of the internet has not helped matters, with exotic pet store owners and independent sellers trading endangered species on countless social media sites, websites, and even the dark web. Many species of turtles make for popular pets both within the country and internationally. Their shells and body parts are also smuggled for medicinal purposes, while their meat is considered a delicacy in several Asian countries.
In 2018, a wildlife trade monitoring network published its findings on the unbridled trafficking in the internationally protected black spotted turtle — found along the Indus River in Sindh and Punjab — through transit trade routes in Southeast Asia to Hong Kong and China. It revealed that a total of 10,321 alive black spotted turtles were seized in 53 operations between 2014 and 2016. This highlighted an alarming increase in the illicit trade of the unique, freshwater animal when compared to past records: between 2008 and 2014, a total of 2,171 turtles were rescued in 26 seizures. To combat the illegal wildlife trade, greater transnational cooperation is required, along with stricter enforcement of laws. Alongside, local communities must be given more stake in the conservation process, and steps taken to combat poverty and encourage alternative means of livelihood.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2020