It’s ironic that we call turtles “Ninja”. Ninjas are lightening fast; ninjas are warrior, ninja fights with enemy, but turtles? Turtles are slow, turtles are clumsy, and turtles cannot fight the enemy. Why would someone combine these two creatures which apparently have nothing in common, but someone did it to create one of the legendary cartoon characters ever, Ninja Turtles. Regardless of the fact that turtles are slow and clumsy, they do posses all the qualities of a Ninja. They are on a covert mission under water just like Ninjas which never show their identity and never leave a trace. When they are under water they are as lightening as Ninja in fighting the enemy and odds. No doubt they are Ninja Turtles.

Turtles belong to one of the ancient group of animals, almost 300 million years old, since the Triassic Era, long before many dinosaurs walked the earth and yet surviving because of their adaptive nature. Their ancientness and antiqueness can be a sole reason enough to attract the attention of humans but turtles are far more than just an antique, they are Ninjas. Their presence in water is beneficial for the ecosystem as they feed upon dead organic material, diseased fish and clean up the water resources. They are like a natural under water filtration plants beneficial for the other sea creatures and humans as well.

The reason that Turtles survived the period of evolution is their armor like body shell which always shielded them and they remain quite unchanged. Now, when we are witnessing their water purification abilities and other beneficial effects on ecosystem, we can assume that why nature has provided turtles with that shield. The shield which protected them for millions of years is not enough against humans.

Nature takes care of every human need and it do it for free and humans in return just have to preserve it but it is unfortunate to state that humans are doing it otherwise. Like many other species, Turtles are too facing imminent threats because of human activities.

Illegal trade of freshwater turtles is the biggest threat to its existence. Secondly, demand for turtle meat is met from the commercial trade of turtles from Vietnam to Bangladesh to Indonesia, even from parts of North America. They are most famous in China as turtle jelly and turtle soups are among the expensive dishes of the country. Thirdly, parts of freshwater turtles used in traditional Chinese medicines. Lastly, the threats to the turtles are further magnified by changes habitat resulting from human activities. From logging to slash-and-burn to agriculture pollution, plus the damming and channeling of rivers and the landscape are damaging the existence of turtles.   

There are eight different species of freshwater turtles found in Pakistan; five of which are globally threatened species in the IUCN (International Union for conversation of Nature) Red List. All eight freshwater turtle species are listed in CITES Appendices I & II and their import and export without a legal permit is prohibited. Countless species including turtles are illegally poached and exported to other countries especially China and East Asian countries.

Recently I had an opportunity to visit Sukkar, Ghotki and other parts of interior Sindh to observe the matter closely as freshwater turtles can be found throughout the entire Indus river system. Ms Uzma Noreen, a correspondence of WWF gave a detailed and informative presentation about turtles, their importance and why they are endangered. 

She further told us that Two twenty nine Black Spotted Turtles were seized in Tashkurgan, China. Two Pakistani smugglers and five Chinese buyers were caught. According to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the live animals should be sent back to the country of origin. First time in the history of China, live animals were repatriated. Though 29 turtles died in the way still 200 turtles reached safely to the facility containing small nursery in Sindh Wild life department, Sukkar.

China set an applaud able precedent by handing over the smuggled turtles which costs above 30 million.  One healthy turtle costs 1600$ in international market and it explains why turtle is in danger, it’s expensive. Though, according to wild life acts (2007) of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, turtles have been declared as protected species but there is no low point in graph of illegal turtle trade since then. There are cases in which local authorities confiscated the consignments containing fresh turtles and their dry parts. A Chinese too was caught at Sust border with 4 bags of turtles. But we can assume that because of the lenient laws and their lack of implementation, lot of illegal trade is still persisting. In Gothki, we met locals from a village on the bank of Indus River. They told us that there is myth in Sindh that whosever will hurt turtles will turn ugly or something bad will happen with him. They told us they know nothing about turtle illegal trade and they were not aware of its price in international market.

In China, sentence of convicted criminal in case of illegal trade is life imprisonment and two years back, it was a death penalty. In Pakistan for that matter, sentence is 6 months to 1 year or 50, 000 rupees. This indicates that how developed and responsible countries protect their natural habitats.

We concluded so far that turtles are globally threatened species; Pakistan is too involved in its illegal trade and playing an unwanted role in the process of extinction of this precious living fossils. In Pakistan, we mostly are concerned with the matters of immediate effect and seldom have we given thought to the matters of ultimate effect.  Yes, maybe this whole saga of turtles and their illegal trade is not affecting our lives directly or immediately but sooner or later, it will. Our government must act like Ninjas to preserve turtles, or generations will suffer. In a province like Sindh, where people have to walk miles to get fresh water, how heinous would be a crime of damaging natural filtration plants, we all could imagine. 

Aristotle explains that everything in this world has a higher purpose or final cause. Humans have brains so they must not think like animals instead they must categorize and preserve other living things on earth, he elaborated further.