The Punjab Wildlife Department seized 504 turtles being smuggled to Bangkok on Tuesday from the Allama Iqbal International Airport.
Naeem Bhatti, the Wildlife Department deputy director, said that the turtles were seized at 1:30am. “Two people were taken into custody. They have been fined Rs300,000,” he said.
The turtles are being kept temporarily at the Lahore Zoo and the Safari Park.
Javed Awan, the wildlife officer who conducted the raid, said that the smugglers had come from Karachi. “The suspects were just carriers. They were told that they were carrying seafood items. The turtles all belong to the spotted-pond species,” he said.
The species is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits their trade.
“These turtles are mostly smuggled to Far East Asian Countries where they are used in medicines or food,” Bhatti said.
“It was fortunate that the turtles were found alive. Such animals are frequently dried and parts of their bodies separated to hide them,” he said.
“The species is extremely important to the riverine eco-system and play an important role,” he said.
According to a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), these turtles are largely scavengers. They play an important part in maintaining aquatic ecosystem by cleaning dead organic matter. They also play a significant role in containing the population of fish.
Bhatti said that due to excessive hunting, the animals had become endangered. “They were declared a protected species under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Act 1974 (Amended 2007),” he said.
The turtles are found in the entire Indus River System, including tributaries, irrigation canals, ponds and water reservoirs.
The Wildlife Department is also collaborating with the WWF to release the turtles in the wild.
Syed Muhammad Abubakar, the communication officer at the WWF, said that the turtles would be released near Head Balloki on Friday.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2015.
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