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February 24, 2016

‘Chinese nationals smuggling Pakistan’s black pond turtles’

Karachi

February 24, 2016

Karachi

The Sindh Wildlife Department said on Tuesday that some Chinese nationals were smuggling black pond turtles from Karachi to their country and dozens of these reptiles found abandoned in three different locations in the city last year were released by these smugglers as they were not of the size and weight they required.

“Chinese smugglers have rented some bungalows in Karachi where local poachers bring them black pond turtles,” wildlife official Adnan Hamid Khan told a consultative workshop on illegal wildlife trade in Pakistan.

“These freshwater turtles are captured at rivers, canals and lakes linked with the Indus River system. Chinese smugglers sort them out according to animals’ desired size and weight to take them to their country while the rest are released in the residential areas of the city as they are of no use to them.

The four-day consultative and capacity-building workshop on combating illegal wildlife trade was organised by the WWF-Pakistan in collaboration with USAID.

Wildlife and law enforcement officials and experts and environmentalists from different organisations working for wildlife protection and conversation in the country attended the workshop.

Khan, a wildlife department game officer and in-charge of the Marine Turtle Conservation Unit, is leading an investigation into the smuggling of black pond turtles from Pakistan.

The official said their probe was still under way and there were several dots that had yet to be connected but they had identified the main culprits.

He added that efforts were under way to track down the local abettors of the foreign smugglers.

“At the moment, we don’t know why black pond turtles are being smuggled but we have come to know that a gang of Chinese smugglers are behind it. We have also identified some Malaysians, who are interested in buying turtles from local poachers,” he explained.

The official said wildlife smuggling was the second most lucrative illegal trade in the world after drugs.

A black pond turtle from Pakistan, weighing around one kilogram, fetches up to $1,500 in Far Eastern and East Asian countries including China,” he added.

He, however, claimed that the Sindh wildlife department was facing an extreme shortage of funds and resources while it was often subjected to budget cuts, making it very hard for its officials to prevent smuggling and killing of wildlife in the province.

“Wildlife protection is not a priority for anybody but we have still managed to curb up to 80 percent of freshwater turtle smuggling.”

Sindh wildlife conservator Saeed Akhtar Baloch said apart from preventing illegal animal trade, the department also carried the moral responsibility of saving native wildlife which was the country’s natural heritage. He also shared a few success stories of illegal wildlife consignment seizures including freshwater turtle repatriation from China.

He added that around 229 black pond turtles were brought back from China in 2014 which were smuggled out of the country by road from Sindh.

Wildlife and national parks conservator Sharifuddin Baloch in his presentation regretted that they had to guard thousands of kilometres in Balochistan - around 43 percent of the total area of the country - with 27 officers and 500 game wardens while there were hundreds of precious animals of immense interest to the local and international smugglers.

He said three airports, several roads and highways connecting Balochistan with other provinces and two countries as well as the 1,000-kilometre-long coast of the province was used for smuggling wildlife. However, he added that after spreading awareness among locals, smuggling and illegal trade of wildlife had been curbed to a great extent.

“We believe that with more awareness, it would be the people of Balochistan and local communities that would be guarding their flora and fauna from poachers and smugglers.”

Earlier Rab Nawaz, the senior director of Biodiversity, WWF-Pakistan, noted that illegal wildlife trade had been recognised as one of the most lucrative illegal trades falling closely behind drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking and generates an estimated $19 billion every year.

He also shared the outcomes of an undercover market study of the WWF conducted as part of the project supported by the USAID through its Small Grants Ambassador Fund Programme in 26 cities of Pakistan, wherein all surveyed markets were discovered to be dealing with illegal wildlife trade.

The WWF-Pakistan official further mentioned that the assessment of 102 web portals and social network platform Facebook groups and individual pages also revealed that an online wildlife market existed in Pakistan. “The WWF plans to bring all relevant stakeholders on board to formulate a national-level action plan to control illegal wildlife trade in the country,” he added.

Ghulam Ahmad, the director general of the Directorate of Research and Training (Customs), highlighted that such events provided an excellent learning opportunity to departments such as the Pakistan Customs which was responsible to control illegal trade at our borders and develop synergies with other institutions working for the same cause.

He also acknowledged that the enhanced capacity of Pakistan Customs officials and other departments on various aspects of illegal wildlife trade would be an important step to ensure improved surveillance over wildlife traffickers.

Umeed Khalid, the conservator of Wildlife, the Ministry of Climate Change, gave an overview to the CITES regulation, its implementation at the national scale and also highlighted different aspects of the Pakistan Trade Control Act of Wild Flora and Fauna 2012. The first two days of the event will include a consultative session, focusing on developing an action plan to combat illegal wildlife trade in Pakistan.