LAHORE - WWF-Pakistan’s board has underscored the need to initiate mass awareness campaigns on illegal wildlife trade.

Hundreds of freshwater turtles, migratory birds and endangered animals are caught, smuggled, killed or butchered by illegal wildlife traffickers in the country. The board also highlighted the need for the government to implement wildlife laws in true spirit and award exemplary punishment to wildlife traffickers.

Among a number of decisions taken at a meeting held at Lal Suhanra National Park (LSNP). The board approved the implementation of the project Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade by establishing a national monitoring network that benefits local communities and environment, funded by USAID.

The decision comes at a critical time when reports of illegally trafficked birds and turtles have increased. At least 12 laggar falcons were rescued by the Sindh wildlife department during a raid in the hilly areas of Jamshoro district last week as well as 62 turtles and tortoises near Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi.

Speaking on the occasion, WWF-Pakistan DG Hammad Naqi Khan said that illegal wildlife trade has become the fourth most profitable business in the world. Pakistan should have strict vigilance and surveillance mechanisms in place at various exit and entrance points bordering neighbour countries and international airports, he stressed.

The director general also shared that WWF-Pakistan rescued and safely released hundreds of freshwater and marine turtles, dolphins, whale sharks, whales and other entangled or confiscated animals into their natural habitat. “WWF-Pakistan’s awareness programme is educating fishers on how to protect marine biodiversity in Pakistani waters and we hope the new project on illegal trade will strengthen the capacity of relevant law enforcement agencies by providing capacity building trainings and equipping them with the required tools,” he added.

Ahmer Bilal Soofi, WWF-Pakistan President, commented that the rate of loss of natural habitats for wildlife is escalating in Pakistan. Concerted strategies need to be developed to prevent animal loss and improve the conservation status of key species, including those which are vulnerable to pollution, illegal trade, habitat loss and climate change impacts, he highlighted.

During the meeting, the board members also supported sustainability of WWF-Pakistan’s 10 Conservation Information Centres by committing to explore funding opportunities. The board appreciated initiatives taken by the Houbara Foundation International to set up a deer and houbara breeding centre at the Lal Suharna National Park.

They also recommended that the government should implement Ramsar Advisory Commission’s recommendations to make Patisar Lake of LSNP functional as part of the floodplain management plan strategy. They were happy to see the success of the Better Ginning Practices project, funded by the EU under the SWITCH-Asia programme, after meeting local ginners participating in this programme. The cotton project in Pakistan, which began in 2005, has led to environmental benefits and has brought socio-economic prosperity to the cotton growing communities.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of better cotton production. Pakistan was the first country to produce better cotton in 2010. As a result of the successful implementation of the Better Cotton Initiative standard, there has been a consistent reduction in the use of harmful pesticides, fertilizers as well as the use of water while showing an increase in gross margins of farmers.

Awareness created as a result of interventions has helped children, previously working in cotton fields, to re-enroll in schools.