KARACHI: When 450 kilogrammes of dried turtle meat start walking away under your nose, perhaps it’s time to sit up and take notice - especially if the gourmet meal is being smuggled by the wildlife staff themselves.
As turtle meat isn’t halal, no one wants to eat it in Pakistan. But, if you ask anyone in the Caymen Islands, whose residents subsist on a diet of the white and dark meat, or a homeopath in China, turtle meat is one of the most expensive rarities on the planet. In a token acknowledgement of its value, the penalty for dealing in turtle meat is Rs2,000 a kilogramme, which would come to nearly one million rupees for the wildlife staffers who were caught trying to ship it out.
No action has been taken even though a report was sent in September 2009 to the chief minister, who is also the chief game warden for the province. To date, all suspects are being paid their wages and no further action other than their suspension has been taken. In 2008, customs officials intercepted a consignment of dried turtle meat that was sent to the Sindh Wildlife Department.
A year later, on July 15, 2009, two wildlife staffers, driver Ghulam Nabi and clerk Bashir Shiekh, were caught by the Karachi Game Warden Shahabuddin and Railway Police DSP Shafee Muhammad Mughal at the Karachi railway station with the same consignment. Wildlife conservator Hussain Bakhsh Bhagat was in Saudi Arabia for Umrah at that time and in his absence, Deputy Conservator Dr Fehmida was overseeing administrative matters.
Sindh Chief Secretary Fazlur Rehman ordered an investigation into the incident, appointing Auqaf Secretary Younus Dhaga as the chief investigating officer. Sindh wildlife secretary Mushtaq Memon also held wildlife conservator Bhagat responsible for the crime, since the suspects were employees of his department.
Both the driver and the clerk were temporarily suspended, while a report was sent to the Sindh chief minister. According to official sources, it names the driver and the clerk for the smuggling attempt and absolves Bhagat. One report was submitted to the chief minister in September 2009 but no further action has been taken in the case, said Bhagat while speaking to Express News. Since the provincial conservator was being held responsible in the case himself, he was not part of the investigation and did not receive any orders to conduct an inquiry against the implicated employees.
According to the report submitted to the CM, the three employees accused of smuggling were driver Ghulam Nabi, junior clerk Bashir Ahmed Sheikh, who is also a field officer for the game warden, and watchman Zark Amin. The employees claimed that they were taking the meat to get it weighed.
The turtle meat was taken to the railway station in one of the wildlife cars, bearing the number GS4126. Internal problems An amendment to the Wildlife Ordinance, Sindh in 1972 required that an honourary district game warden be appointed to work along with the conservator. However, the honorary warden does not report to the conservator and instead is only answerable to the chief minister.
The honorary warden works without any wages and his responsibilities include preventing illegal hunting and enforcing penalties at his or her discretion. Every new government appoints its own honorary game warden, said the official. And since these employees are working without wages, they often succumb to bribes and smuggling, the official alleged.
Another problem is that smuggled goods, which include prohibited birds, animals, turtles and their meat, which are seized by the game warden, are not recorded. There is no written documentation of such detained material, even while their court cases are underway, added the report.