Pakistan is likely to employ DNA barcodes — a way to identify species to curb illegal wildlife trade as smugglers come up with new techniques to transport endangered species by mislabelling them.
The Directorate of Biodiversity at the Ministry of Climate Change said that illegal wildlife trade was on the rise as most countries did not employ scientific tools for proper identification of protected species.
Taking advantage of the loophole, officials on duty help individuals smuggle consignments of protected species, labelled as non-protected species.
Advanced scientific tools such as DNA barcoding are considered most accurate and precise.
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“The DNA barcoding is gaining wide acceptance because of its validity to identify species based on sequence matching,” Directorate of Biodiversity Director Naeem Ashraf Raja told The Express Tribune on Saturday.
He said that molecular methods including DNA barcoding was being used to detect cross-border movement of endangered species internationally. In Pakistan, Raja said the same technology was being used to detect endangered turtles, which were being smuggled from the country.
“A consignment labelled as fish meat was intercepted at a Pakistan port and was tested for its source, using the DNA barcoding with fish-specific primers. Sequence from this consignment matched 99 per cent with those from Lissemys punctata (Indian flap-shelled turtle) — species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES),” he said.
“The DNA barcoding helps control illegal trade and smuggling of protected species under false pretenses,” Raja said.
He said that since issuance of a notification empowering the Sindh Wildlife Department to protect turtles and tortoise of Chelonia order, many consignments of turtles had been confiscated.
Recently, over 200 black-pond turtles destined for Bangkok black market were confiscated at the Karachi port and smuggling of turtles of the same species was foiled at the Chinese border, which were send back to Pakistan and were released in their natural habitat.
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“Now the smugglers have devised new means to carry out their illicit trade and instead of smuggling live turtles, they smuggle turtle parts by labeling them as fish meat — a legal trade mark,” said Raja.
He said that in March a consignment of turtles including shells, bones, skulls and dried meat under the label fish meat was intercepted at the Karachi port. The shipment weighing about 1,900kg roughly comprising 4,000 turtles was worth approximately $60million, Raja said.
These species of turtles are native to the Indus River and listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2015.