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Taiwan provides shelter for 15 critically endangered tortoises : COA (Council of Agriculture)

Taiwan provides shelter for 15 critically endangered tortoises : COA (Council of Agriculture)

Taipei, March 13 (CNA) Customs officers last week seized one ploughshare, or angonoka tortoise, and 14 painted terrapins, which are listed as critically endangered species by international wildlife conservation organizations, when they were smuggled from Malaysia to Taiwan, a Council of Agriculture (COA) official said Monday.

They were later taken to a wildlife rescue center in northern Taiwan, according to Yang Horn-chi (楊宏志), deputy director of the COA’s Forestry Bureau.

The 15 animals were detected by an x-ray scanner in an air shipment of sports shoes from Penang, Malaysia, according to Yang.

One of them was identified as an angonoka tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora), a critically endangered land tortoise species endemic to Madagascar that has been included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and is listed as one of the world’s three most threatened turtles in the World Wildlife Crime Report — the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The wild population is down to approximately 600 animals, Yang said.

CITES Appendix I includes the world’s most endangered plants and animals, such as tigers and gorillas. Trade in these species, or even parts of them, is completely banned, except in rare cases such as scientific research, according to Yang.

The painted terrapin, painted batagur, or saw-jawed turtle (Batagur borneoensis) is a rare and interesting turtle found in the river systems and estuaries of Southeast Asia. It is listed in the CITES Appendix II, which contains species that are not yet threatened with extinction but which could become threatened if unlimited trade were allowed. Plants and animals in this category can be traded internationally, but there are strict rules.

Yang said that due to the continued declining numbers of the two species, they have been included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered species.

Currently, there are six wildlife conservation and rescue centers around Taiwan, Yang said.

(By Yang Shu-min and Evelyn Kao)