Once upon a time there were abundant turtles in Bangladesh, but the threat of extinction now haunts all turtle species in the country.
The government passed a law in 2012 slapping a ban on the poaching, sale, and smuggling of turtles but to no avail. Such activities continue, further pushing the animal toward extinction.
A survey found that turtles become victim to poaching because there is a huge demand for turtle meat in both domestic and international markets.
Since turtle meat is sold at a high price in foreign markets, a group of dishonest traders are engaged in the poaching of this endangered species.
Bangladesh has numerous species of turtles. Their prices are determined based on their weight. A turtle weighing 3-3.5kg is sold at Tk4,000-4,500 in the domestic market while the price is much higher in the international market.
During the monsoon, turtles usually stay in large marshlands, beels, and rivers. After the water recedes, they make their way to swamps, only to be caught by the poachers who then sell them to specific buyers including restaurants.
Another group buys the turtles or the meat from the poachers and smuggles them to foreign countries.
Intelligence sources said over the last few years Bangladesh has been used as a transit point for smuggling turtles. Turtles are not only smuggled from Bangladesh but are also smuggled into the country from India.
After the turtles are smuggled into the country, they are sent to China, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Malaysia. These countries have a huge demand for turtle meat and the bones of turtles are used in the manufacture of various drugs.
Turtles are often recovered from local markets and border areas.
On February 23, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) conducted a drive at Shakhari Bazar in Old Dhaka and recovered 100 endangered turtles. Later, RAB 10 Senior Director Additional Superintendent of Police Mohiuddin Faruqui said a mobile court sentenced three people to nine months’ imprisonment over the matter.
Faruqui said the racket is run by 10 to 15 more people, who poach turtles in Narsinghdi and Munshiganj and sell them in Dhaka.
He added that those who sell turtles and those who buy and eat the meat are equal offenders in defying the ban.
RAB Headquarters Executive Magistrate Sarwar Alam, who led the mobile court in Shakari Bazar, said: “Some people from various communities like the meat. Turtle meat is also sold at some restaurants, specially the foreign restaurants in Gulshan and Banani.
“Both tortoise and turtle meat are in demand in foreign countries.”
Stating that a number of syndicates are involved in such activities, Sarwar said. “We conducted many drives before and rescued turtles from airports. They are also being smuggled through the borders.”
Wildlife Crime Control Unit Inspector Asim Kumar Mallick said: “It is sad that even after the culprits are punished, they get involved in such crimes again after they are released.”
Citing examples, he said Ponir Chandra Das, one of the three detainees of Shakhari Bazar drive, had been arrested earlier and jailed for six months for committing the same crime.
“He secured bail, came out of jail after serving four months, and then again committed the same crime,” Asim said.
Dhaka University zoology department Professor Md Abdur Rob Molla said: “Turtles are sold and smuggled for meat for a high price. The number of turtles is alarmingly declining.”
He said: “Each species of turtle is endangered in our country. Of them, some are more endangered and this is gradually posing a serious threat.”
Prof Molla regretted that turtles were still in danger even after formulating a law regarding it.
He said: “We have a law to protect turtles. The forest department and International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed these animals and a law was formulated based on their assessments.
“According to the law, poaching, collecting, and export-import of turtles are totally prohibited.”
Prof Molla further said: “The export and import of some species of turtles are banned internationally. We have to save rare species like turtles to maintain equilibrium in nature, and awareness is required for this. We will not be able to protect this rare species unless we raise awareness.”
This article was first published on banglatribune.com