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World Wildlife Day: Indiscriminate poaching of freshwater turtles to meet Indian demand

  • Published at 10:59 pm March 2nd, 2020
An Indian Flapshell Turtle, listed as a vulnerable species of reptile, rests on a riverbank in Bangladesh COURTESY: SCOTT TRAGESER
An Indian Flapshell Turtle, listed as a vulnerable species of reptile, rests on a riverbank in Bangladesh Courtesy: Scott Trageser

On average, 55kg of Indian Flapshell Turtle was sold per week, 10kg of Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle, and Elongated Tortoise supply depends on special order, approximately once a month

Three species of vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered, freshwater turtles are widely poached from Bangladesh to meet market demand in the Indian state of Tripura, according to a study.

There are seven collection points in Bangladesh and two selling hubs in Tripura’s capital Agartala, found the latest study.

A report titled “Transboundary Trade of Freshwater Turtles from Bangladesh to Tripura” was prepared by the Creative Conservation Alliance, a non-profit organization that works on ecological preservation.

The report, submitted to Bangladesh Forest Department on February 23 this year, also details the smuggling chain, the price, and the number of smuggled turtles, requesting the required action from Bangladeshi authorities to stop the practice.

The study, conducted in 2017, has been compiled based on documentation of eight vendors and interviews of biologists, government officials, and members of local villages in Tripura. However, it is yet to be officially published.

The study finds that Chunarughat of Habiganj, Bhairab of Kishoreganj, Debidwar of Comilla, Parshuram and Chagolnaiya of Feni, and Akhaura and Ajampur of Brahmanbaria, are the seven collection points. Poachers capture the turtles from either wetlands or rivers.

The turtles are then taken to Bottola Bazar and Golbazar, two major trading hubs in Agartala, the report said.

After capturing, third parties collect the turtles and sell them to a wholesaler in Agartala. The third parties are working in Bangladesh and Agartala simultaneously. Local vendors then purchase those turtles from the wholesaler and sell it to consumers.

How much does a turtle cost?

Researchers found that a kilogram of Indian Flapshell Turtle sells for approximately Rs600 to Rs800 ($9-12) in Agartala. Indian Peacock Softshell Turtles are sold for Rs1200-1500 ($18-25) per kg, and Elongated Tortoise are as high as Rs1800-2200 ($25-35) per kg in Tripura.

On average, 55kg of Indian Flapshell Turtle was sold per week, 10kg of Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle, and Elongated Tortoise supply depends on special order, approximately once a month.  

A separate report by India’s office of TRAFFIC, a leading NGO working globally on trade in wild animals, found that 111,312 tortoises and freshwater turtles of Indian species were found in illegal wildlife trade in 348 reported seizure cases between 2009 and 2019.

The report titled “Tortoise And Freshwater Turtles Under Siege” also found that the seizure equates to more than 11,000 individual animals poached and illegally traded every year or more than 200 individual animals per week.  

Indian Flapshell Turtles constitute 15% of the seized turtles in total.

The report found that about 60% of all reported seizures are from two major hotspots including 35% in Uttar Pradesh and 27% in West Bengal. However, the TRAFFIC report did not mention any information on the state of Tripura.

Shahriar Rahman, vice president (regional) at Turtle and Tortoise Special Group of International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] emphasized the need for special care at India-Bangladesh borders to prevent illegal smuggling.

“From Moulovibazar to Feni, there is a huge border area with India, where stricter action is immediately needed to stop illegal poaching of turtle species from the source areas,” he said.

Until the route is protected, poachers will continue to use new techniques to continue the smuggling, added Rahman.

Rahman, also the chief executive officer (CEO) of Creative Conservation Alliance, said: “We conducted the study in Tripura, but the turtles can be poached and smuggled into other states using other routes too.”

ASM Jahir Uddin Akon, director of Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU) of the Bangladesh Forest Department said identification of poaching routes remains a challenge.

“We do not have any officer at any of the 10 international ports in Bangladesh to look after the matter. If we could keep an officer in each port, that would protect more species from poaching,” he said.

Just two decades ago, turtle species were available in every water body, but the number gradually declined. There were 25 turtle species available in Bangladesh, but 21 of them are endangered worldwide.

IUCN lists Indian Flapshell Turtles as “vulnerable” and Indian Peacock Softshell Turtle as “endangered” and Elongated Tortoise as a “critically endangered” species.

Turtles and tortoises are mainly scavengers and keep aquatic ecosystems clean while some species help keep populations of snails and insects in check.

Turtles represent one of the oldest groups of animals that have existed on this planet since the rise of dinosaurs, with the earliest fossil evidence of their existence dating back to 215 million years ago, the late Triassic era. But their existence is in threat because of human interventions today.

World Wildlife Day on Monday

Bangladesh, like other countries, is all set to celebrate World Wildlife Day on Monday.

World Wildlife Day would be celebrated in 2020 under the theme "Sustaining all life on Earth," encompassing all wild animal and plant species as key components of the world's biodiversity.

The Bangladesh Forest Department has organized different programs to mark the day.

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