LAHORE - World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) in collaboration with the Sindh Wildlife Department has retrieved 200 black pond turtles illegally poached and smuggled to China. The Chinese authorities were instrumental in confiscating the consignment of hard-shell turtles brought from Pakistan.

The turtles were handed over to Pakistan in a ceremony conducted at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. Uzma Noureen, Coordinator Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project, who is also a member of the IUCN Tortoises and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group accompanied Pakistan’s delegation of Sindh forest and wildlife officials to bring back the turtles to Sukkur.

There are eight different species of freshwater turtles found in Pakistan; five of which are globally threatened species in the IUCN 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. However, it is for the first time that the animals have been recovered alive from the poachers and repatriation of the turtles has taken place.

Uzma Noureen said that: “Illegal trade of body parts of softshell turtle species has been reported since 2000. A number of consignments have been confiscated in the past by the wildlife and customs authorities in Sindh, Punjab, and Islamabad; and at Pak-China border in Sost. All of these consignments comprised withered frozen meat of turtles or body parts of softshell species.

 These are used as food and in traditional medicines. This is however very alarming to see that now the hard shell species are also being targeted in illegal trade for sale as pets”.

Javed Ahmed Mehar, Chief Conservator Wildlife, Sindh Wildlife Department, appreciated the role of WWF-Pakistan for turtle conservation and added that: “It was not possible without the support of WWF-Pakistan and I believe that everyone should join hands for conservation of unique biodiversity of Pakistan.”

The freshwater turtles are found in the entire Indus river system, which proves to be beneficial for the ecosystem, as they feed upon dead organic material, diseased fish and clean up the water resources. Turtles in Pakistan face multiple threats due to habitat degradation, scarcity of water, pollution and the biggest threat to its survival is from illegal trade to different countries on commercial scale.