Karachi (May 23, 2017): World Turtle Day is being observed Globally today. The purpose of World Turtle Day is to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive.
Freshwater turtles in Pakistan, like leopards, are protected under Schedule III of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Protection laws and also being added in the revised wildlife protection act of Sindh. However, regardless of status the species is poached across the country to be kept as a pet in aquariums and exported to East Asian countries for use in traditional medicine.
Pakistan is home to eight species of freshwater turtles, which are found in the entire Indus River system including its tributaries, irrigation canals, ponds and water reservoirs. These turtle species play an important role in keeping the aquatic ecosystem clean by feeding on dead organic material and fish. The aquatic ecosystem is made up of very intricate food webs and scientists consider freshwater turtles to be keystone species, i.e. removing them would cause the whole structure to collapse.
In addition to this five species of marine turtles has been previously reported from the country based. WWF-Pakistan during the past three years has been able to authentically report, for the first time, live specimens of three rare species of marine turtles including loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback from Pakistani coast. Working with Wildlife Departments of the two Maritime Provinces i.e. Sindh and Balochistan, a number of projects have been implemented which aimed to protect the marine turtles. These projects have resulted in an increase in population of green turtles in Pakistan.
World Turtle Day is celebrated around the globe in a variety of ways, from dressing up as turtles or wearing green summer dresses, to saving turtles caught on highways, to research activities. Turtle Day lesson plans and craft projects encourage teaching about turtles in classrooms.
Turtle species of the world are facing serious threats to their likely survival due to environmental changes. The major problem with existing wild populations of turtles in the country is caused by illegal trade in body parts of soft shell species on a commercial scale. The scale of illegal trade can be gauged from the fact that in the year 2015 five consignments carrying 1,345 live freshwater turtles and 1.9 tonnes of their body parts (including dried meat and bones) were ceased by law enforcement agencies at various airports across the country bound for different East Asian countries. Pakistan Customs officials have ceased four consignments already this year and rescued about 700 black-spotted turtles from illegal wildlife traffickers.
To curb the menace of illegal trade and trafficking of freshwater turtles WWF-Pakistan as part of its project Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade by Establishing a National Monitoring Network that Benefits Local Communities and Environment, supported by USAID through its Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program, is developing a national level action plan by involving relevant stakeholders to control illegal wildlife trade in the country. The project is also building capacities of the relevant law enforcement agencies to monitor and control wildlife crimes through trainings and the provision of the latest technologies. WWF-Pakistan plans to initiate an awareness campaign at every important entry and exit point of the country in collaboration with Civil Aviation Authority. WWF-Pakistan recently conducted an undercover market study in 26 cities of Pakistan, in which it was discovered that all markets were dealing in the illegal trade of protected species including turtles.
Other threats to freshwater turtles in Pakistan include habitat deterioration and fragmentation due to unsustainable development; scarcity of water in rivers, canals and water diversion and extraction projects for irrigation purpose; and water pollution. Human-wildlife conflict is adding to severity of catastrophe. Due to lack of awareness regarding the ecological role of turtles in river ecosystems, the species is perceived to be harmful to the fish economy by fishermen.
Founded in 1990, American Tortoise Rescue is the founding sponsor of World Turtle Day. The term “WORLD TURTLE DAY” is trademarked by Susan Tellem of Malibu, California American Tortoise Rescue (ATR) is certified by state and federal agencies as a nonprofit 501(c)(3)corporation to provide for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle. Foundlings that cannot be adopted because of ill health remain in the care of American Tortoise Rescue for the remainder of their lives.
Featured in Chase’s Book of Annual Events, the day was created as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, founders of the rescue American Tortoise Rescue advocate humane treatment of all animals, including reptiles. Since 1990, ATR has placed about 3,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes. ATR assists law enforcement when undersize or endangered turtles are confiscated and provides helpful information and referrals to persons with sick, neglected or abandoned turtles.