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November 10, 2015

Good samaritans: Viccaji sisters help save 42 endangered black-spotted turtles


November 10, 2015

It was just after sunset last Saturday when musician Rachel Viccaji, the younger of the vocal powerhouse sibling duo, spotted a couple of black-spotted freshwater turtles crossing the busy road near Darakhshan Villas, adjacent to Sea View.
Several of them, tragically, had also been crushed by oblivious motorists.
“Rachel first saw a couple of turtles trying to cross the road and brought them home. She then checked the entire neighbourhood and found a few more wandering about in the residential area near Sea View. She rescued a total of nine freshwater turtles which had apparently been abandoned by somebody,” said Zoe Viccaji, Rachel’s elder sister, while talking to The News on Monday.
Zoe said a lifeguard on Sea View had also saved 13 of these turtles but the people were trying to release them into the sea, not knowing that the reptiles were inhabitants of freshwater bodies and would die in the ocean.
The sisters then went on to inform the Sindh wildlife department with the help of WWF-Pakistan officials to help the turtles get back to their natural habitat.
Aftab Ahmed, a resident of the area, had also rescued around 18 black-spotted freshwater turtles. When he learnt that the Viccaji sisters were in touch with the authorities for rescuing the vulnerable turtles, he approached them and ended up handing over the reptiles to the care of WWF-Pakistan.
“A total of 42 black-spotted turtles, classified as an endangered species in the red list of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have been recovered so far, while around 15 have been reported dead,” said an official of the WWF-Pakistan.
Adnan Ahmed, an official of the Sindh wildlife department who investigates poaching and smuggling of freshwater turtles from Pakistan, said the turtles rescued from the beach had not been caught for smuggling, even though they were endangered and hence precious.
“Most of the rescued turtles were large

females with only a few males,” said Ahmed. “Someone was probably trying to breed them at home when they escaped due to their negligence.”
He said these black-spotted turtles could be kept as pets but their large numbers in the area indicated that their carrier was keeping them for breeding purposes.
“We are keeping the turtles in quarantine for at least 30 days at our facility. After that they would be released in their natural habitat, either at the Hub dam or in the Keenjhar lake,” said Ahmed.
Meanwhile, wildlife experts said the international trade of freshwater turtles was considered to be a lucrative business and was beginning to harm freshwater turtle populations across the country, putting the long-term survival of several species at risk.
“The WWF-Pakistan has taken a number of necessary steps actions to curb this illegal trade,” said Saeed-ul-Islam, the coordinator of WWF-Pakistan. “There are eight species of freshwater turtles found in Pakistan, of which five are globally threatened.”
He said wildlife traffickers often took advantage of the weak enforcement of laws in the country. He said it was important to note that since organisations and departments had begun to work together, conservation efforts had begun to bear fruit. He also appreciated the steps taken by federal and provincial governments in revising legislation while also developing and approving policies. However, he pointed out, their implementation still remained a huge challenge.
He said a lot of momentum had been generated since the confiscation of 218 black-spotted turtles in 2014, since it had been helpful in raising awareness about the cause and had created an opportunity for informing custom officials. Islam said, since then loopholes in the legislation had been dealt with and ports had been closed down for trafficking wildlife species out of the country.

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