LAHORE: The population of endangered freshwater and marine turtles is declining due to habitat degradation caused by climate change, said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Manager Conservation Humaira Ayesha.
Talking to APP, she said that Pakistan was home to almost 200 endangered and threatened species of reptiles. However, most of these species are threatened to extinction due to persistent threats including habitat degradation, poaching, illegal wildlife trade, climate change, urbanization, she said.
Ayesha said that besides other reasons, freshwater turtles, tortoises, marine turtles (hatchlings of green sea turtle) were also the victims of poaching and illegal wildlife trade." Among other reptiles venomous or non-venomous snakes, geckos, lizards are also listed among the endangered species," she added.
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Replying to a question, she said that however some of the species of these reptiles were indicating positive trends in their populations as an outcome to the persistent conservation efforts of WWF and government functionaries. She mentioned the conservation status of many reptile species could not be ascertained as this was a very specific area that required consistent research for informed conservation planning.
Pakistan was home to eight species of freshwater turtles. "Out of these eight, three species were of soft-shell turtles and one species of hard-shell turtle was listed as threatened in the IUCN red list of threatened species," she added. To another question, she said that one species of freshwater turtles, Indian narrow-headed soft-shell turtle has been listed as endangered in the IUCN' Red List of Threatened Species.
She further said that freshwater turtles of Pakistan were facing numerous threats and the illegal trade was of prime importance. Pakistan has been recognised as a major source and a transit country for illegal consignments of live wild animals, their parts and derivatives particularly freshwater turtles, she added. Not only Pakistan in most of East Asian Countries other notable threats to the turtles included habitat degradation and incidental by-catch in the fishing gears. The scale of illegal trade can be evident from the fact that only during 2015, five consignments carrying 1345 live freshwater turtles and 1.9 tons of their body parts including dried meat and bones were seized by the concerned departments, bound to different East Asian countries, she informed APP.
Additionally, the deliberate killing of turtles by the local fishers who consider them a predator to fish due to lack of awareness about their ecological role, was another threat to the survival of freshwater turtles in the riverine habitats of Pakistan.
Punjab Wildlife Department official sources said that Provincial wildlife departments are also making notable efforts towards protection of wildlife such as enhanced protection to reptiles, effective vigilance over poaching and illegal trade. Freshwater turtles are legally protected in Pakistan which makes their capturing and selling either alive or their body parts/derivatives or keeping them as pets illegal, the sources said.
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The Punjab government has taken serious measures through building capacities of the relevant law enforcement agencies to monitor and control wildlife crimes, they added.
Zoological Survey of Pakistan official sources said that on the strict directions of the current PTI government effective and steering role in all initiatives under the umbrella of Revival of Forestry and Wildlife Resources in Pakistan are being taken.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2019.