Rescued turtles suffer in shelter

OVERFLOWING:The number of turtles being saved from smugglers is soaring, a sign that punishments are too light, while a shelter has run out of space, activists say
By Lee I-chia  /  TAIPEI TIMES
Wed, Dec 04, 2013

Thousands of protected turtles rescued from being smuggled to China are crowded into a temporary shelter under poor conditions, animal rights’ advocates said yesterday, urging the government to impose heavier punishments on smugglers of protected animals.

Government statistics showed 9,336 China-bound Asian yellow pond turtles and yellow margined box turtles (also known as “snake-eating turtles”) — rare and endangered species that are protected in Taiwan — had been rescued between 2006 and this year, but the actual number being smuggled was probably much higher, the Life Conservationist Association said.

More than 5,000 turtles were rescued in just two months — 1,446 snake-eating turtles and 1,180 Asian yellow pond turtles in August and 1,358 snake-eating turtles and 1,081 Asian yellow pond turtles in September — association executive director Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳) said.

Although the Forestry Bureau commissioned Wu Sheng-hai (吳聲海), an associate professor in National Chung Hsing University’s department of life sciences, to shelter and treat the intercepted turtles before releasing them in their original habitats, the school’s limited resources cannot support such an enormous number of turtles, the association said.

The light punishment does not deter smugglers, it said.

“Sometimes the bureau suddenly calls and says that it needs shelter for about 2,000 turtles, and the turtles fill up our small shelter space immediately — averaging 30 or more turtles in every ping [3.3m2] — which gives them a very poor quality of life,” Wu said.

Showing photographs of grayish turtles covered in mud and piled on top one another in nets and boxes, Wu said the shelter was originally intended for birds that had been injured and were unable to fly.

It was not designed to house a huge number of turtles, he said.

“They like to stay in shaded areas, and you can see that because the shelter space is limited, they end up crowded together in the corners,” he said.

Many turtles were dehydrated, starved or injured by the time they were rescued, and some needed to be fed with feeding tubes, he said.

The turtles need a better environment to recover, but due to limited resources and space, “the survival rate of the turtles [in the shelter] has always been low,” Wu said.

The survival rate this year is only about 40 percent, the association said.

Forestry Bureau wildlife conservation section head Lin Kuo-chang (林國彰) said the agency would find additional space for at least 1,500 turtles before the end of the year.

Lin also urged the public to report any cases of smuggling to local conservation bureaus.

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