Wildlife trafficking from Pakistan ranks 3rd after arms and narcotics

Pangolins are poached in widely in Pakistan to be illegally smuggled to various countries in Asia for consumption purposes / BITETHESTUFF PHOTO

Illegal wildlife trade from Pakistan to different countries of the world has registered surge since 1995, and now is considered third highest after the smuggling of narcotics and weapons. The gangs involved in illegal trade of wildlife have vast network spread from local to international level. The different wildlife animals and birds like pangolin, eagles and Houbara Bustard are smuggled out from Pakistan but the main target is Black Pond Turtle being easy to capture and transport. This creature also fetches big price in the international market. The illegal trade not only causes huge revenue loss to the country but also disturbs the biodiversity and ecosystem leading to climate change, various deadly diseases and socio-economic problems.

The racket came to light after two big consignments of Black pond Turtles were seized in August and September 2014. In recent seizure, a smuggler, hailing from Punjab province was caught by Sindh Wildlife Department officials at Karachi airport along with 230 black pond turtles stuffed in bags. He had boarded flight from Lahore for Bangkok via Karachi. In August last, a gang of five traffickers was nabbed by Chinese Customs authorities along with 200 black pond turtles illegally poached in Sindh province and smuggled out to China. The Chinese authorities were instrumental in confiscating the consignment of hard-shell turtles.

The Chinese authorities, who had informed Pakistan authorities of nabbing the culprits, handed over the turtles to a Pakistani delegation comprising Sindh wildlife department and World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) officials at a ceremony held at the Pakistan-China border at the Khunjerab Pass.

On the afternoon of August 18, 2014 the General Administration of Customs of China and the State Forestry Administration of China held a ceremony at Hongqilapu (Khunjerab) in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to hand over the confiscated black pond turtles to Pakistan. The 200 smuggled rare turtles were seized by Kashgar Customs House (affiliated to Urumqi Customs District). Customs officers said they took action on receiving information that turtles were being smuggled in a truck. The traffickers were caught at a temporary checkpoint in Tajik autonomous county of Taxkorgan.

By handing over the confiscated endangered species, China Customs intends to fulfill its international commitments on wildlife protection and deter wild life smuggling. Mr. Liu Xiaohui, the Director General of the Anti-smuggling Bureau of the General Administration of China Customs, said in a press statement that the hand-over event showed government’s consistent position on executing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and cracking down on the illegal trade of endangered species.

The rescued hard-shell turtles were brought to the Indus Dolphin Centre in Sindh from where were released into their natural habitat after the creatures got rehabilitated at the Dolphin Centre that has been declared their quarantine, Sindh Wildlife conservator Javed Maher told Magazine N at his office in Karachi.

The Chinese officials, he said, had arrested two Pakistani and five Chinese poachers who, he said, would likely get life imprisonment. Earlier, such criminals were awarded the death penalty. “The smuggling of turtles from Pakistan to other countries, especially to the South East Asian states Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan and China, has become common practice over the last few years,” he told.

Uzma Noureen, a WWF-P official who was part of the delegation and is also a member of the IUCN Tortoises and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, said: “A number of species including turtles are illegally poached and smuggled out from Pakistan to other countries, especially China and East Asian countries. However, it is for the first time that animals have been recovered alive from poachers and repatriation of turtles has taken place.”

Eight different species of freshwater turtles are found in Pakistan; five of them are globally threatened species. All eight freshwater turtle species are listed in the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) Appendices I & II and their import and export without a legal permit is prohibited. These turtles are found in the entire Indus river system.

The black pond turtles, which feed on plants, fish and shrimp, are found mainly in India and Pakistan.

Last year too, the Thai Customs found over a thousand black pond turtles and tortoises in airport luggage. Officials at Suvarnabhumi Airport had arrested a 25-year-old Pakistani man who had smuggled the creatures in four suitcases on a flight from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.

In Prague also, the Czech officials said that airport customs authorities seized 47 endangered turtles that a foreign national smuggled from Asia.

Pangolin is also endangered specie that is fast vanishing from Pakistan. The pangolin, a mammal with a small head, a scaly body and a long broad tail, possesses sharp hearing and a keen sense of scent. The animal is nocturnal, which means it is active at night, and spends daytime in its burrows. It is also called an anteater – because its diet includes ants. The shy and harmless animal is rapidly disappearing due to relentless poaching, but the Pakistani government seems uninterested in taking serious measures to rescue the rare animal from extinction.

The sharp decrease in the pangolin population in Pakistan is attributed to the hunting and smuggling of these animals to China and East Asian countries, where there is a demand for the pangolin for its meat and for medicinal uses.

“At least two seizures of pangolin scales have been reported in China in the past year – One for 25kg of scales, and the other for 1,000kg. Those arrested by the Chinese customs department confessed that the scales were brought from Pakistan,” a Pakistan official said in a report.

It may be mentioned here that on April 17, 2013, a British newspaper published a shocking article titled ‘Ship containing 22,000 pounds of dead pangolins crashes into protected reef’.  According to the report, a Chinese boat carrying the remains of thousands of illegally killed pangolins crashed into a protected coral reef at Tuhbbataha National Marine Park, a UNESCO- designated World Heritage site on the Palawan Island in the Philippines.

According to a report by a research team, the pangolin population has declined by more than 84 per cent in the past three years in all four districts of the Potohar region of Punjab, which is natural habitat of pangolin.”

Although a single pangolin is worth thousands of dollars in the international market, Pakistani poachers sell pangolins to smugglers at an average rate of 100 to 300 US dollars.

Similar is the case with Black Pond Turtle, which is sold for 1600 US dollars in international market. According to Sindh Wildlife Department official the population of Black Pond Turtle in the province has declined by 80 percent due to illegal poaching.

The official told that smuggling of eagle, houbara bustard and other birds besides beautiful animal deer poached from Sindh and Balochistan provinces has also increased. The eagles and houbara bustard are smuggled out to Arab countries.

The illegal trade of wildlife continues unabated despite existence of laws, though soft as compared to other countries, mainly because of corrupt officials of wildlife and other concerned departments besides patronage of highly influential feudal lords and politicians of the country, insiders confided Magazine N.

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