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Poaching - Bad Medicine

Courtesy Credits : The Third Pole / Turtle Survival Alliance

Rare turtle species are disappearing from India’s rivers as the creatures are poached for the meat and traditional medicine and smuggled across Asia.

Local myths about the use of their body parts, as well as an international poaching network feeding ‘traditional’ Chinese practices, have put Indian softshell turtles in peril. These softshell turtles, which get their name due to lack of scales on their outer shell or carapaces, are found in lakes and ponds as well as in the river systems of the Indus and Ganga drainages across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are nature’s little helpers in keeping the rivers and waterbodies clean, breaking down rotting organic matter in lakes, ponds and rivers including dead bodies of humans and animals. Unfortunately, a brisk trade in their body parts means they are disappearing from the ecosystems where they were once familiar.

The international illegal trade in trafficked turtles is deeply established, and a smuggler can get thousands of dollars for a few turtles. One driver is the pet trade. Given their peaceable demeanour, and often beautiful shells, turtles are highly sought after pets in developed countries. A second driver, in Asia, is the lure of traditional Chinese medicine, which is dependent on specific body parts of specific animals. The turtle, given its longevity, is considered special, and thus its parts, expensive. Both of these forms of trade, as well as poaching for eating by local people, have led to the decline in population of softshell turtles in India.