Pakistan News

Hong Kong officials ask Pakistan to receive 751 smuggled turtles

Hong Kong officials ask Pakistan to receive 751 smuggled turtles

KARACHI: The Hong Kong authorities have recently approached Pakistani officials with a request to receive a consignment of 751 black pond turtles that were being smuggled into their territory over a month ago, it emerged on Sunday.

According to sources, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) management authorities of Hong Kong had contacted their Pakistani counterparts last month and informed them about the seizure of 751 black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii).

The freshwater species consignment with an international protected status, the sources said, was concealed in a fishing vessel sailing in the Hong Kong waters in February this year.

Read: Fight to save endangered Indus dolphins, turtles

Although the Hong Kong officials haven’t yet confirmed the origin of turtles and the case is still under investigation, a request was sent to the CITES management authorities of Pakistan to consider receiving and releasing these turtles into the wild since Hong Kong is not the range state of these turtle and the species might be smuggled out of Pakistan.

The Hong Kong officials that also offered to bear the delivery cost, sources said, had asked Pakistani counterparts to provide information on turtle smuggling in their region.

According to sources, Pakistani officials had informed the Hong Kong officials about the Hongda Trading Company that was involved in a recent turtle smuggling case reported at Karachi port. The company had previously sent three shipments to Hong Kong in the cover of a certificate declaring these turtles as fish maw.

The Hong Kong authorities, sources, said, were investigating the company’s links in their territory. In the meantime, the federal officials had asked the Sindh wildlife department for their opinion over the matter.

Majority of the officials in Sindh, the sources pointed out, were in favour of receiving the turtles from Hong Kong considering the depleting population of freshwater turtles in the province and its subsequent impact on ecology.

Also read: Bid to smuggle ‘largest’ turtle parts shipment foiled

“Yes, the issue is being debated and soon a decision will be taken,” confirmed the Sindh wildlife conservator, adding that if the Sindh government decided to take and release the turtles into the wild, all the required scientific protocols would be met.

It is noteworthy that a Hong-Kong bound consignment of dried body parts of over 4,000 freshwater turtles was confiscated at the Karachi port last month. It was officially declared as the largest seizure involving turtles in the country’s history.

The body parts were identified as those of Indian narrow-headed softshell turtles, a critically endangered and protected reptile in the country.

Last September, over 200 black pond turtles were confiscated at the Karachi airport.

The species were found in the luggage of a man who had arrived from Lahore. Forty-five turtles died due to suffocation and injuries they suffered during travel while over 170 turtles that survived were later released into the Haleji Lake.

The same month, another batch of 200 smuggled black pond turtles was released into the Indus River (in the Kalar block) near the Rohri forest. They were smuggled out of Sindh and confiscated in Taxkorgan, China. The turtles were handed over to Pakistani officials in a ceremony held at Khunjrab Pass on the Pakistan-China border.

Eight different species of freshwater turtles are found in Pakistan — five of them are globally threatened species — namely Indian soft-shell turtle, Indian peacock soft-shell turtle, Indian narrow-headed soft-shell turtle, Indian flap-shell turtle, black pond turtle, Indian roofed turtle, brown roofed turtle and crowned river turtle.

All these species are listed in the CITES Appendices I & II that means their import and export without a legal permit is prohibited. These turtles are found in the entire Indus River system. The range states of the black pond turtle include southern Pakistan (Indus and Ganges River drainages), northeastern India (Assam), and Bangladesh.

The Sindh government last year declared all freshwater turtle/tortoise species found in Pakistan as protected and included them in the Schedule II of the Sindh Wildlife Ordinance 1972. Rules were also framed to impose heavy penalties on turtle poachers and smugglers.

The information gathered from the internet shows that illegal turtle trade is thriving in the region. Last year, 88 black pond turtles destined for Bangkok were seized at the Chennai airport and 230 endangered Hamilton turtles which were smuggled from India were seized at the Bangkok airport.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2015

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