This Man Is In Hot Water For Trafficking Threatened Turtles
A New Jersey man is facing consequences after stuffing rare turtles in tube socks so they couldn’t move during shipping and selling them on the Internet. He’s responsible for paying for the care and food of the 40 turtles he gave up—a total of more $30,000—as well as fulfilling five years of probation, NJ Advance Media reports.
A U.S. District Court found Patrick Elfers violated the federal Lacey Act, which bans trafficking threatened and endangered wildlife and plants. He kept species including the North American wood turtle, which New Jersey classifies as threatened, and the spotted turtle and Eastern box turtle, which the state says are only a step away from being threatened.
The cruelty of Elfers’ shipping methods aside, the trafficking of turtles is still a too common problem.
As World Wildlife Fund‘s Rachel Kramer tells NJ Media, “Tortoises and freshwater turtles are being stolen from the wild all over the world to be sold into the exotic pet, meat, and traditional medicine trades. Just last month, Madagascar’s customs and border police found more than 700 critically endangered tortoises being smuggled at the national airport.”
As an example, experts estimate that 500 Philippine forest turtles are sold illegally each year as pets. The Philippine government is lax about enforcing their protection, and their single known population can be found on the island of Palawan. The freshwater species once thought to be extinct can rake in as much as $2,500 when sent overseas.
Care2 reported authorities found nearly 4,000 of those critically endangered turtles this summer stacked up in a cement tank in a Philippines warehouse. Based on how emaciated some were, experts estimated a handful had been there as long as six months.
Other turtles are being hunted to extinction for their shells that are then sold underground for jewelry and such. The Sea Turtle Conservancy notes 90 percent of hawksbill turtles in particular have died out over the last 100 years. They are now critically endangered. While nearly 200 governments have banded together to protect the turtle, their shells are still popular in black markets—especially in Japan.
Combs made of bekko, the Japanese word for hawksbill shell, are a part of traditional wedding dress. Tourists also inadvertently contribute to the species’ decline. As the Conservancy notes, “Turtle shell jewelry and souvenirs are still the most frequent contraband items seized by customs officials from tourists returning from the Caribbean.”
Educating tourists and suppliers can help, as well as establishing better anti-trade agreements between regions.
Another solution to such illegal trade is to turn “traders into conservationists and reward them for their protection achievement,” Endangered Species International‘s Pierre Fidenci tells the Scientific American. Meaning he wants to create a special unit to watch over illegal turtle trade, so that former traders can have a better alternative for making money. Maybe then, he says, “We can achieve our goal in saving this turtle from becoming extinct.”