Monday, July 27, 2015

Turtles For Sale

A Chinese businessman living in the Phillipines was caught last month storing 4000+ turtles like lumber in a Palawan wharehouse awaiting shipment to China. Most of the turtles were in very poor health from severe neglect and long captivity. They were stored dozens deep in concrete tanks. The turtle inventory included 3800 critically endangered Phillipine forest turtles; only 2500 are thought to remain in the wild. Either the population estimates are wrong or the illegal traffickers have captured almost all of the remaining wild turtles. Siebenrockiella leytensis is endemic to only the northern half of Palawan Island and Dumaran Island and is protected under both Phillipine and international law. Their rarity has sparked intense demand among greedy humans causing a wholely illlegal trade to spring up. Most specimens end up on Chinese breeding farms to be sold as pets or food. Turtles sell for between $53 and $75 dollars in the Phillipines and much more in China.

released turtles, credit Katala Foundation
The seizure may be the single largest ever of rare turtle caught in the illegal international trade. Their future is grim. Many died after being removed to improvised shelters erected by volunteers because of their weak condition. Forest turtles are shy by nature and are easily stressed to death when kept in groups. They are susceptible to shell rot and skin problems and do not thrive when kept in captivity. Many of the rescued turtles suffer from bite wounds, ulcers, starvation and dehydration. Rescuers are engaged in triage and care for the sick and dying. Individuals that are not in need of extensive rehabilitation are released back into the wild where they face being captured again by the rapacious traffickers. About 2200 have been released so far. International help is coming in the form of skilled volunteers and money. The Turtle Survival Alliance is accepting donations.

An illegal trove of protected turtles destined for the market in China is only a small part of a much broader problem in Asia now reaching into Africa and South American. Hordes of Chinese with new-found wealth are demanding previously luxurious foodstuffs, creating a demand than unscruplous traders are willing to supply at high prices. Turtles are found in rural areas where poverty is common, so if a trafficker offers people money for turtles, they are going to take it. So far there has been little effective law enforcement. It may be too late for the turtles, if humans decide to get serious about saving them from extinction.