KARACHI: The Word Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) has appreciated law enforcement agencies and the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department officials for confiscating a consignment of 45 black-spotted turtles on March 8 from Faisalabad International Airport.
Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department Inspector Mohammad Atif Saeed said the offender was recognised as a Karachi-based exporter of dried fish and preserved vegetables to Malaysia. Saeed said he had chosen to travel to Malaysia from Faisalabad airport, which is relatively unknown for incidents involving illegal wildlife trade. He said he had sourced the turtles from an anonymous Lahore-based dealer through a contact from Karachi and was carrying the turtles in suitcases after concealing them in multicoloured fabrics.
WWF-P Biodiversity Senior Director Rab Nawaz pointed out that the fund had been observing an increase in illegal trade of the black-spotted turtles which are particularly coveted in East Asia. He also mentioned that Customs officials had seized two consignments at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport earlier this year and rescued around 184 black-spotted turtles from traffickers. Nawaz also shared that an undercover market study conducted by the WWF-P under a project supported by USAID through its Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Programme across 26 cities of Pakistan had revealed that all surveyed markets were involved in illegal trade of wildlife.
He also pointed out the freshwater turtles were protected under the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab Wildlife Protection Acts and were listed in the revised Sindh Wildlife Protection Act. This, Nawaz said, raised the need to formulate a strategy to urgently curb their illegal trade while ensuring interprovincial and stakeholder coordination.
He emphasised that illicit wildlife trafficking was not only an environmental issue. Nawaz said it should be treated as a crime that could be checked by extending livelihood support to marginalised communities which were exploited by the pertinent mafia.
Pakistan is home to eight freshwater turtle species, all of which are at serious risk of being illegally traded. Due to this, all eight have been listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The scale of the illegal trade is evident from the fact that in 2015 alone, five East Asia-bound consignments composed of 1,345 live freshwater turtles and 1.9 tonnes of their body parts (including dried meat and bones) were seized by the law enforcement agencies.
The WWF-P has been working with law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to formulate an action plan to curb illegal wildlife trade from the nation with financial support from USAID through its Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Programme. Additionally, the project has also been building capacity of relevant agencies to monitor and control wildlife crimes through training personnel and providing state-of-the-art technology. The WWF-P has trained over 100 Customs, Wildlife, Maritime Security, Civil Aviation, Airport Security, Anti-Narcotics, Marine Fisheries, police and logistics personnel so far.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2016.