News Room

8 October, 2012

Illegal Capture and Trade Threatens Pakistan’s Endangered Freshwater Turtles

A joint Press Release of WWF – Pakistan and Ministry of Climate Change
Lahore / Islamabad: Monday, October 08, 2012

A consignment of 34 live turtles is confiscated from Pakistan’s northern most “Sust” border between Pakistan and China by the Gilgit-Baltistan Forest, Wildlife and Parks Department, being illegally captured and transported from Pakistan’s freshwaters to China.  This trade in wildlife especially in freshwater turtles is on its peak during the last eight years, which has resulted in killing of several hundreds and thousands of these species in order to feed Chinese Restaurants and help in preparing Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM).

Lahore / Islamabad, Pakistan, October 08, 2012:  WWF – Pakistan, the Ministry of Climate Change, and Gilgit-Baltistan Forest, Wildlife and Parks Department jointly released 30 freshwater turtles in Korung River, Islamabad on Sunday, October 07, 2012.  Rehmat Ullah Baig, Range Forest Officer, briefed the media about the consignment of 34 turtles which was detained by the Gilgit-Baltistan Forest, Wildlife and Parks Department at Sust border on October 03, 2012.  The consignment was originated from Adiala, Rawalpindi and was bound to China.  The culprit paid a penalty worth Rs. 2,000 for illegally exporting the turtles from Pakistan.
While talking to the media, Umeed Khalid, , Ministry of Climate Change briefed about the Convention on International Trade in Wild Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) to which Pakistan is a signatory.  According to this Convention, international trade in the CITES listed species is banned. He also emphasised on the need of rehabilitation centre for seized wildlife species before their release in the wild for their successful survival.

Uzma Noureen, Coordinator, WWF – Pakistan updated the media on illegal turtle trade in Pakistan and conservation actions taken by WWF – Pakistan to curb this practice.  She further explained that eight different species of freshwater turtles are found in Pakistan; five of which are globally threatened species in the IUCN Red List.  A total of seven freshwater turtle species are listed in CITES Appendices I & II and their import and export without a legal permit is prohibited.  Uzma Noureen further appreciated the role of government departments in taking initiatives to conserve their country’s rich biodiversity.  She informed the media that provincial and federal government has taken several effective steps in revising their legislations and developing and approving policies in this regard.  The challenge is to implement them and this confiscation is one example of such implementation, which cannot be effectively managed unless all the partners are involved and work towards a greater objective of conservation and sustainable development.

Dr. Muhammad Rafique, Director Zoological Sciences Division, Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad explained that freshwater turtles are listed in the Schedule III (highest protected category) in provincial wildlife legislations of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and their capture from the wild is an illegal act.  Abdul Wahab, Director, Zoological Survey Department briefed about the research project on freshwater turtle distribution and population assessment, financially supported by WWF – Pakistan and carried out by the Zoological Survey Department.  He also emphasised on the need of further scientific research on these endangered species for better management of their populations.

The consignment consisted of three turtle species; 7 specimens of Brown roofed turtle (Pangshura smithii), 3 specimens of Indian flap-shell turtle (Lissemys punctata andersonii) and 24 Indian softshell turtle (Nilssonia gangetica).  Four of the Indian softshell turtles expired during transportation.  Preferred habitat of these species is deep river channel, canals and ponds.  These species share the same habitat and therefore were released at one place in wetland Protected Area in order to ensure their survival.  Before releasing them into the channel, turtles were given time to be rehabilitated.

Turtles are keystone species and contribute to maintaining the integrity of freshwater ecosystems being predators and also as food for other predators.  Turtles being scavengers keep the waters clean and aquatic habitats healthy.  Commercial exploitation of freshwater turtles is a prime threat to the existing populations of endangered species.  Turtle meat is esteemed as a healthy and popular dish and is widely consumed in China, Hong Kong and in East-Asian countries.  Turtle body parts are speculated to contain aphrodisiac properties and are used in Traditional Chinese Medicines.  Turtles are also popular as pets which may contribute to an even higher demand for the contraband.

Turtle trade is intense in Asia, particularly in countries representing well established regional, national and international import-export markets.  Among the Asian countries, Vietnam and Bangladesh were the major turtle suppliers in the beginning but after depleting their native resources, the harvesting pressure shifted to the adjoining countries including India, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.  High market demand of turtles in China and Hong Kong resulted in exploitation of these species not only in developing countries but also in the developed nations such as the United States.  Pakistan is no exception to this negative trend as it transpires that East Asian markets have been importing large quantities of freshwater turtles and their parts from Pakistan.

A well organised turtle trade started in Pakistan in 2002.  Turtles and their body parts collected from wild are transported to wildlife dealers in Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Lahore (Punjab), Karachi (Sindh) and Sust (Gilgit-Baltistan).  These cities have International exits and therefore preferred by the wildlife dealers for export of turtle consignments.  The known turtle part importing countries from Pakistan include China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Korea.
The establishment of a well organised wildlife trade monitoring network is imperative in combating the wildlife trade in endangered species of animals and plants.  Creating awareness and building the capacity of wildlife and customs authorities is necessary for improved surveillance.




Species of Freshwater Turtles in Pakistan and their conservation status
Pakistan hosts eight species of freshwater turtles, inhabiting the Indus River System.  These are given below along with their global conservation status in IUCN Red List and CITES;

Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica)
Endangered in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix II

Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica)
Vulnerable in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix I

Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia hurum)
Vulnerable in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix I

Indian Flap-shell Turtle (Lissemys punctata andersonii)
Least Concern in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix II

Indian Roofed Turtle (Pangshura tecta)
Least Concern in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix I

Brown Roofed Turtle (Pangshura smithii)
Near Threatened in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix II

Crowned River Turtle (Hardella thurjii)
Vulnerable in IUCN Red List

Black Spotted Turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii)
Vulnerable in IUCN Red List
Listed in CITES Appendix I


Convention of International Trade in Wild Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES:            It is an international agreement between governments.  Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

CITES Appendices:

Appendix I:     lists species that are threatened with extinction and are or may be affected by trade.  Commercial trade in wild-caught specimens of these species is illegal (permitted only in exceptional licensed circumstances;
Appendix II:    lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with the survival of the species in the wild;
Appendix III:   species that are listed after one member country has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade in a species. The species are not necessarily threatened with extinction globally.

About WWF – Pakistan: World Wide Fund for Nature - Pakistan was formed in 1970 to address the growing environmental and conservation issues in Pakistan that not only affected the flora and fauna, but were also affecting the human population. WWF – Pakistan is a non-profit organisation, working preserve, conserve and save our environment and natural resources. Today, WWF - Pakistan works through 31 offices with a team of approximately 450 dedicated staff members. We have our Head Office in Lahore, regional offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Gilgit, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Quetta, and project offices wherever there is need and the potential to make a difference.

The Ministry of Climate Change: The Ministry of Climate Change (the Then Federal Ministry of Environment) is established in 2012 is the federal Ministry dealing with environment related issues.  It is the federal institution which is responsible for the looking after environment related national and international treaties and conventions.  It provides policy level support to the provinces and territories on matters related to environment.


For further information or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Umeed Khalid
Ministry of Climate Change

Uzma Noureen
WWF – Pakistan




Press Contact

Media Relations at WWF-Pakistan

+92 42 111 993 725