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KARACHI, Aug 18: A huge consignment of body parts of highly rare freshwater turtles, which was caught at the Karachi airport a few weeks ago, had been certified by the federal ministry of food, agriculture and livestock (Minfal) as dry fish skin, it has been reliably learnt.

According to sources, the export of turtle parts is banned under the country’s laws as the turtles have been declared endangered species under international conservation laws, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Pakistan is a signatory to CITES and is bound to bring its local laws in conformity with international commitments.

A probe into the issue has revealed that a Lahore-based businessman, Muzafar Iqbal, was sending the contraband goods to a certain Mr Zhoedan in China. But the consignment was caught at the airport by the Sindh Wildlife Department’s (SWD) raiding party.

The consignment weighs approximately 700 kilograms and over 6,000 freshwater soft-shell turtles had been massacred by the poachers. The shipment’s price in the international market is said to be approximately $100,000.

The turtle consignment was brought into the city by the poachers from Lahore through PIA flight No PK 303 on July 25, 2007. To export the illegal goods Karachi-based M/s Track Triangular Aviation was used as the forwarder while Eastern Cargo Centre, also based in Karachi, was used as the cargo agent.

The contraband consignment was being sent to Texan Rechange International Trading Ltd, Unit No 805/803/807, First Floor, City No 19, West Dawang Road, Chao Yang, district Beijing, China, the documents reveal.

Something fishy

According to sources, Minfal’s marine fisheries department’s Quality Control Officer Tariq Mehmood, who sits at the Fish Harbour, West Wharf, Karachi, had given a certificate on July 26, 2007, that 16 cartons of dry fish skin had been processed and packed by M/s SNB Fisheries Products at its plant at Plot No 6, Rago Street, Ramswami, Karachi, and were being sent to Beijing.

When pointed out by the SWD’s team, the customs department stopped the consignment, which was being sent through Thai Airways, at Quaid-i-Azam Airport’s International Export Cargo Terminal on July 27.

According to the SWD sources, both Muzafar Iqbal and Zhoedan were at the airport when the contraband consignment was caught. But when they saw that the authorities had become suspicious they slipped away to avoid arrest. Both have not yet been arrested, though the SWD has now registered a case under Section 12, Sub-section 3 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972.

The customs department is also pursuing a case under Section 22 of the relevant law.

The SWD team – comprising Rashed Ahmed, Adnan Hamid, Abdul Sattar, Rafiq Rajput and Sardar Khan – took the samples and sent them to Karachi University’s zoology department and the federal government’s zoological survey department (ZSD).

KU’s Dr Sohail Barkati, in his July 31 certificate, says “all 48 pieces or 16 samples are part of carapace (upper shell) and plastron (lower shell) of (the) Ganges soft-shell Turtle (Aspideretes gangeticus) and Chitra turtle/Indian soft-shell turtle (Chitra indica).

The ZSD’s July 31 certificate says samples brought in by Dr Fahmida Firdous and Rafiq Rajput have been identified as “parts of (the) shell of freshwater turtles of (the) following species: 1) Trionyx gangeticus or Aspideretes gangeticus (Ganges/Indian soft-shell turtle); 2) Chitra indica (Narrow head soft-shell turtle).”

The ZSD’s marine zoologists Abrarul Hassan and Fahmida Iffat had identified and verified the samples, the certificate adds.

Sources said that the contraband goods that were with the customs at the cargo terminal had now been handed over to the SWD. Responding to Dawn’s queries regarding what would be done with the turtle parts, Sindh Wildlife Conservator Ghulam Rasool Channa said after the case had been decided in court the goods would be destroyed in accordance with the law.

The federal government’s Islamabad-based National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) told Dawn that it had asked for a report from the SWD regarding the case, but so far the report has not been furnished.

The NCCW official said that the council had also written to the CITES secretariat in Geneva last year informing the secretariat that there were reports that turtles would be smuggled under different garbs such as fish, etc, to the Far Eastern countries, where these were used as aphrodisiacs or were considered to be delicacies.

He said that a few months ago another huge consignment of turtle meat was also caught at the port.