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Wildlife heroes save nearly 4,000 endangered turtles destined for China’s kitchens

Wildlife heroes save nearly 4,000 endangered turtles destined for China’s kitchens

Time was running out for thousands of critically endangered creatures locked up in a warehouse and destined for the dinner bowls of China. Many were starving, thirsty and suffering from injuries.

Luckily, conservation heroes rescued the 3,800 illegally harvested Palawan forest turtles and are now nursing them so they can be released back into the wild.

These rare and fascinating nocturnal reptiles were once thought to have become extinct only to be rediscovered on the Philippine island of Palawan in 2004.

Over the past decade, they have become highly prized not only by turtle collectors but also Chinese food connoisseurs, creating a lucrative blackmarket and, once again, putting the species at threat of oblivion.

The Palawan forest turtle, scientific name Siebenrockiella leytensis, is one of the most endangered reptiles in the world and has fallen foul of a similar sophisticated crime network used to ship ivory and tiger bones across the Far East.

Conservationists were shocked by the number illicit turtles being kept in appalling conditions when the authorities raided the Palawan warehouse late last month. There were more turtles inside the warehouse than experts believed still survived in the wild and many were in an appalling condition, suffering from bone infections, emaciation, dehydration and septicemia.

Vets and experts from an international consortium, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo, Turtle Conservancy and Turtle Survival Alliance have been working to save the animals, setting up a triage to see which ones can be released and those that need treatment.

WCS’s Bronx Zoo Senior Veterinarian Dr John Sykes said: « The situation is a difficult one when you consider the treatment of these animals, the neglect they have suffered, and poor condition that many are in. But it is inspiring to see a quick response and people from different groups sharing their expertise and coming together to pitch in to help save these endangered animals. »

The turtles are being nursed back to full health

The turtles are being nursed back to full health

Sadly, 358 turtles have died but 3,000 are being released back into the wild. The work continues.

Fort Worth Zoo Biologist and Turtle Survival Alliance President Rick Hudson said: « The outpouring of support for this crisis has been phenomena, in particular the unified response from the turtle conservation community. Together, through teamwork and sharing resources, we have turned a dismal and chaotic situation into one of hope and order. And we’ve given a second chance to a lot of turtles. »

Dr Sonja Luz, Director for Conservation and Research, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, added: « The first days on site were overwhelming as we spent hours sorting out healthy animals from those that needed treatment. I am glad to see the amazing progress achieved by the various teams, and to know that the majority of animals have been released back to the wild; where they will hopefully remain in the future. »

Turtles

Conservationists were shocked by the number illicit turtles being kept in appalling conditions