According to Mohammad Atif Saeed, Inspector, Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department, the offender was recognized as a Karachi-based exporter of dried fish and preserved vegetables to Malaysia. He chose to travel to Malaysia from Faisalabad airport, which is relatively unknown for incidents involving illegal wildlife trade. He sourced the turtles from an anonymous Lahore-based dealer through a contact from Karachi and was carrying the species in suitcases, wrapped in multi-coloured fabrics.
Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Biodiversity, WWF-Pakistan pointed out that WWF-Pakistan has been observing an increase in the illegal trade of the black-spotted turtles which are particularly in high demand in the East Asian market. He also mentioned that Pakistan Customs officials ceased two consignments at Lahore airport earlier this year and rescued about 184 black-spotted turtles from traffickers. He also shared that an undercover market study conducted by WWF-Pakistan as part of a project supported by USAID through its Small Grants and Ambassador Fund Program in 26 cities of Pakistan, discovered that all surveyed markets deal in illegal trade of wildlife including freshwater turtles.
He also pointed out the freshwater turtles are protected under the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab wildlife protection acts and are included in the revised wildlife protection act of Sindh, despite which their illegal trade continues. This raises the need to develop a strategy to tackle their illegal trade on an urgent basis ensuring interprovincial and stakeholder coordination. He highlighted that illicit wildlife trafficking is not only an environmental issue and should be treated as a crime; and the root cause is usually livelihood support for marginalized communities which are exploited by illegal trade mafia.
The arrested man Iqbal during initial questioning informed the officials that he wanted to smuggle endangered specie of turtles to Malaysia via Doha, Qatar. The rare turtles could earn handsome amount in Malaysia, he said.
The price of one freshwater turtle in the Asian markets is estimated to be USD 250.
The customs authorities have earlier also foiled several bids of smuggling of tortoises out of Pakistan, which indicates a growing trend of smuggling of rare species to other countries.
Pakistan is home to eight freshwater turtles, all of them are under serious threat of illegal wildlife trade due to which all eight species are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The scale of the illegal trade is evident from the fact that during 2015 alone, five consignments carrying 1,345 live freshwater turtles and 1.9 tons of their body parts (including dried meat and bones) were ceased by the law enforcement agencies, bound for different East Asian countries.