IUCN Pakistan organized a Consultative Workshop in collaboration with the Sindh Wildlife Department, Government of Sindh, to discuss the findings of a study jointly conducted on illegal trade of freshwater turtles in Sindh and Balochistan, under a USAID-funded project IUCN is currently conducting.
In his remarks, Mr. Saeed Akthar Baloch, former Conservator Wildlife, Government of Sindh said that “IUCN Pakistan and the Sindh Wildlife Department have together implemented multiple projects in the past; this study, too, will be a very useful tool for policy makers, subject experts and environmentalists.”
He added that after drug trade, trade of illegal wildlife animals was the second most lucrative business in the world. He recounted the cases where turtles were confiscated by Sindh Wildlife Department in the last three years.
The new Conservator Wildlife Sindh Mr. Taj Mohammad Sheikh, assured that the Sindh Wildlife Department would continue to extend its cooperation and support to help curb the illegal trade of animal species by enforcing stringent measures.
Mr. Shabir Anwer Kazi, Director General, Port Qasim Authority, spoke as a Guest of Honour on this occasion. The illegal trade of freshwater turtle is more of a symptom to the emerging issue of illegal wildlife trade that the world has been facing. The issue requires urgent attention, but so does the poverty that leads to such trade.
Illegal wildlife is also causing depletion of our natural resources. Pakistan continues to face a variety of serious environmental challenges, from marine, atmospheric and land pollution, to the inefficient use of our precious natural resource base.”
However, he added given the scale of the issue, no government can succeed in isolation. We must work together and join our efforts to create a positive impact on the ground. A true example of joint efforts is what we are currently undertaking at the Port Qasim Authority through the support of IUCN. Port Qasim Authority and IUCN are working towards creating a Business and Biodiversity platform jointly with the private sector – the idea is to focus on ensuring responsible development.
In his remarks, Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan emphasised on the seriousness of the issue of illegal trade in this endangered species. Being a global membership based organisation, one of IUCN’s priorities is to bring together states, governments and NGOs to tackle the myriad environmental problems that plague society.
It is particularly important that issues like illegal trade are addressed keeping in mind that they are transboundary in nature; hence, global organisations like IUCN are well-placed to deal with them.”
Mr. Cheema pointed out that Pakistan has signed the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) – an international agreement between governments. This agreement aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
There is an urgent need to build the capacity of law enforcement staff for proper implementation of such international regulations and policies. Government departments are currently facing a shortage of expertise and skilled staff to deal with the situation.
Mr. Cheema appreciated and thanked the US Government for their generous funding toward this project, which marks IUCN Pakistan’s second collaboration with the organisation to protect turtles (the first involved the introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices in fishing communities). He assured the participants that IUCN Pakistan will try its best to have the recommendations put forth at the workshop implemented.
Dr. Syed Ali Ghalib – the lead researcher, made a detailed presentation on the findings of the study. There are around 300 species of freshwater turtles worldwide, and around 50% of them are threatened. Dr. Ghalib highlighted their crucial role in keeping the environment clean by feeding on dead organic material and diseased fish.
He said that poaching and illegal trade is one of the major threats facing this species today. Furthermore, fishermen are unaware of the vital role turtles play in preserving the coastal environment.
Following the presentation group discussions and recommendations were presented by the experts. The Experts made recommendations on conservation, research and study and education, awareness raising and capacity building to curtail the illegal trade of freshwater turtles in Pakistan.
The workshop, held under the USAID-funded project “Integrated Approach to Education, Capacity Building and Livelihood Development of Coastal Communities in Sindh and in Baluchistan Provinces”, invited inputs from key stakeholders that comprised representatives of the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department, academia, subject experts and NGOs.