Protocols for turtle confiscation, quarantine and safe release needed in Pakistan

760 black spotted turtles that were confiscated from a house in DHA, Karachi were released into their natural habitat by Sindh Wildlife Department and WWF-Pakistan on September 12, 2016. PAWS has grave concerns about the inhumane manner in which the turtles were transported from Karachi to Sukker and subsequently released into a lake near Rohri Toll Plaza.
40 empty crates were handed over by Chinese authorities when they returned smuggled turtles back to Pakistan last year. Those should’ve been used instead of the open trucks where the turtles were stuffed in polypropylene sacks and piled upon each other under the hot sun for the long journey. By the time they arrived on location, the turtles had ripped apart the plastic bags in an attempt to get fresh air. A few of them suffocated during the trip as they could not breathe through the bags. Dead turtles were also released into the lake on arrival. Video footage obtained by us shows Sindh Wildlife Department staff dragging the turtles out of the truck and letting them fall onto the ground, while others had a field day playing footsie with them. As per the international turtles release protocols, turtles should be allowed to go into the water on their own, and not forced and pushed.

The arrested convicts should’ve been interrogated to find out the exact sites from where these turtles were captured so that they could be released along those sites. The turtle release site was not scientifically selected and all the turtles were released in the same area. We fear the competition for food and shelter among the turtles will result in heavy mortality. In addition, fishing season has started in the same area where turtles have been released. These turtles will face heavy deaths because of the fishing nets. We request Section 144 to be employed against fishing in the release site for at least this season. Future release sites of confiscated turtles should be earmarked and not auctioned for fishing, mining or any other human activities.

It was also important to find out how long the turtles had been in captivity, as the longer the captive period, the more important the quarantine period. Several of the turtles died after confiscation, and if they had any disease they would’ve taken it back to the wild.

In 2015, after a landmark petition filed by WWF-Pakistan, PAWS and Shehri-CBE in the Honourable High Court of Sindh, the court directed the federal and provincial governments to “publish a detailed program of measures to be taken by them to prevent incidents of illegal exports and smuggling of native wildlife species and other incidents leading to extinction of wildlife, including but not limited to turtles and tortoise”.

As more smuggled freshwater turtles are confiscated in future raids in Pakistan, it is imperative that the authorities in charge develop and follow appropriate protocols for turtle confiscation, quarantine and safe release, and to notify and publicise these protocols. These should be posted in all ports of entry and exit. It is also important that our precious rescued wildlife be treated in a humane manner, and funds be allocated by the government for turtle quarantine facilities and the much needed training of Sind Wildlife staff.

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