Live turtles seized in mailed Hong Kong package to Saudi Arabia

International conventions prohibit mailing live animals

By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief Published: 14:56 July 16, 2014

Image Credit: Some of the live turtles seized at the Saudi post office – SabqManama: Saudi Arabia authorities have seized five live pet turtles shipped by mail from Hong Kong.
A post office in the western city of Madinah received a package from Hong Kong and the monitoring staff suspected there were live pets inside it, Adel Al Faqi, the general head of the Saudi post in Madinah, said. “A special team made up of representatives from the post, the customs and security was summoned and the package was opened,” he said, quoted by news site Sabq on Wednesday.
The package recipient was summoned and he said that he never ordered live turtles.
He explained that his order was for turtle shells and added that he had been misunderstood by the senders who shipped the live pets.
Al Faqi said that the turtles were handed over to the relevant authorities and that the post office would follow the procedures required in such cases.
According to Universal Postal Union, the agency that governs mail delivery between countries, all live or dead animals are non-mailable, except live bees, leeches, silkworms, and flies of the family drosophilidae.


Long-held belief driving turtles to extinction, warns researcher

Posted on July 16, 2014, Wednesday

KUALA LUMPUR: A long-held belief is slowly but surely driving the tourist-drawing turtles to extinction in Malaysia, according to marine biologist Dr Juanita Joseph.

Dr Juanita, who is with the Sea Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU) of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, said it was the belief that consuming turtle eggs cure one of asthma and impotence.

“This is just a belief and it has yet to be scientifically proven,” she told Bernama.

Dr Juanita said it was difficult to get people to discard the belief and perception they had inherited for ages.

However, such a belief would remain a threat to the existence of the turtles, she added.

Dr Juanita was responding to a question regarding the senseless killing of a Green Turtle, with tens of its immature eggs scattered all over, at a leased turtle nesting area of the Kijal beach last week.

She said the habit of eating turtle eggs could be hazardous to health as it could lead to kidney disorders and impact the growth of the foetus.

Turtles, which were reptiles, came ashore to lay their eggs and human beings took advantage of this to seize the eggs, she said.

On the average, a turtle was capable of laying eggs five times in a year during a nesting period, she said.

Research had shown that some turtles could lay eggs as many as 12 times in a year, and they usually laid up to 100 eggs each time, she said.

Dr Juanita said turtles laid many eggs because of the large number of turtle egg predators, and data showed that only one in every 100 turtle eggs developed into an adult turtle.

“Ants and crabs are the major predators. Even a baby turtle is prone to becoming a victim of fishes and birds,” she said.

Dr Juanita suggested the introduction of legislation in Peninsular Malaysia banning the sale of turtle eggs, as was done in Sabah and Sarawak.

She said it was not enough just banning the sale and consumption of turtle eggs so long as the awareness among the people on the importance of the eco-system was still at a low level. — Bernama


Police Arrest Alleged Turtle Smuggler in Bali

By Made Arya Kencana on 05:15 pm Jul 15, 2014

A Green Sea Turtle grazes. (Wikimedia Commons)

Denpasar. Police foiled an alleged attempt to smuggle rare green turtles from Bali’s mainland to nearby Serangan Island on Tuesday — the latest arrest in a string of turtle smuggling busts to hit the popular tourist destination.

A 56-year-old man, identified as Sangkalan, was arrested early this morning after police officers on patrol in Ngurah Rai found 17 turtles inside his pickup truck, Denpasar Police Chief, Sr.Cmr. Djoko Hariutomo said.

The turtles were estimated to be more than 5 years old, given their size. They weighed about 50 kilograms each and measured about 1 meter in diameter, Djoko said.

Djoko said the driver claimed to have been following an order to transfer the turtles to Serangan, a small island located south of the capital Denpasar, from Jembrana.

“He was just a paid man, we haven’t revealed the syndicate,” the police chief said.

Bali was considered the main destination for smugglers trying to move turtles in Indonesia because of the high prices they commanded in the local animal trade, Djoko said.

Most were destined for culinary purposes.

Today’s arrest is the latest in a string of attempts to smuggle turtles in Bali.

Earlier this month two marine police officers in Bali were arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle seven green sea turtles, known as Chelonia mydas.

In March, police rescued another 17 green turtles transported to Bali from Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara.

Twelve of the turtles were released back into the ocean after they were treated, while the remaining five are still undergoing treatment.


Police: 3 men arrested in freshwater turtle-poaching bust

Men accused of illegally harvesting 2,100 pounds of turtles

Published  12:43 PM EDT Jul 15, 2014

LAKELAND, Fla. —State wildlife officials have charged three men in central Florida with illegally harvesting, selling and buying 2,100 pounds of freshwater turtles.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned the commercial harvest of all native wild turtles in 2009, citing the overharvesting of turtles as food elsewhere in the world.Lt. George Wilson says investigators in Polk and Seminole counties caught the men poaching turtles on lakes and the St. Johns River. The turtles were transported and sold illegally to a turtle farm in Okeechobee. The men were charged with multiple felonies and misdemeanors. Wilson says he hopes the arrests help “ensure everyone has the opportunity to see freshwater turtles in the wild and harvest them recreationally.”


After loss of Franklin, Fall River Public Library welcomes new tortoise

Twins Arery and Lucas Motta get to be the first kids to meet the new tortoise that will live at the children's section of the Fall River Public Library.
Herald News Photo  Dave Souza
Twins Arery and Lucas Motta get to be the first kids to meet the new tortoise that will live at the children’s section of the Fall River Public Library.

Marc Munroe Dion Herald News Staff Reporter Posted Jul. 17, 2014 @ 6:27 pm
FALL RIVER — Well do city residents remember the day Franklin, the official turtle of the public library, was stolen from his cage by an as-yet-uncaught thief.
Hundreds mourned, and that is barely an exaggeration.
Every day, children ask me where the turtle is,” Children’s Librarian David Mello said Thursday.
Life goes on at the Fall River Public Library’s main branch on North Main Street, as it goes on everywhere in the city for every one of us.
And so, after a period of searching and sorrowing, the library accepted the gift of a nine year-old male Russian tortoise to replace the irreplaceable Franklin.
One of the saddest sights to see in the children’s room lately has been Franklin’s empty cage, the dry water dish, the clean food bowl.
The new cage looks like the old cage, four glass walls, food bowl, water bowl, a rock bridge to crawl under.
And now, there’s a bright silver padlock.
The Russian Tortoise is worth about $300 on the pet market and was donated to the library by Bob Schenck, owner of Animal Instincts Aquarium and Pet Center, 811 Plymouth Ave.
He’s a nice one,” Mello said as Schenck took the new turtle from his blue plastic carrier and held him out. “He’s not shy, either.”
He’s lively,” Schenck said.
All four legs and his head thrust out of the turtle’s light green shell, and it wriggled and wiggled and looked around.
He has a lifespan of about 50 years,” Schenck said.
He’s omnivorous. He’ll eat anything.”
Wrinkly skinned and snub-nosed, the new turtle began his library life as a hit.
Is that the new turtle?” one kid yelled, and five or six children on the lawn stampeded down to see the hard-backed newcomer.
We’re going to have a contest to give him a name,” Mello said.
Because he’s Russian, someone has already suggested ‘Putin.’”
He’s a land-dwelling tortoise,” Schenck said. And, sure enough, once his long, curved claws touched grass, the turtle scrabbled forward excitedly.
He gave us a cage with a lock on it, too,” Mello said.
Schenck comes to the library often, usually with a van full of animals. On Thursday, he had a variety of snakes, a scorpion, a couple of brightly colored squawking birds.
A couple dozen kids and older people sitting around on the library’s north side lawn petted pythons, heard birds and scooted back from the scorpion.


Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa Welcomes 4-Legged Guest

Scooter the Tortoise finds a high-class home

Scooter will be officially welcomed July 24 at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage.

Scooter will be officially welcomed July 24 at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage.

Photo Courtesy of Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa

No one says hotel guests can only come with two legs.

The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa has taken on a permanent guest called Scooter, a 15-year-old African spurred tortoise.

He will be officially welcomed at 9:45 a.m. July 24 by Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa’s General Manager Randy Zupanski, Rancho Mirage Mayor Iris Smotrich and members of the city council. The public is invited to attend.

Guests will be able to find Scooter adjacent to the Las Brisas swimming pool in a cool and shaded area.

The African spurred tortoise is native to the southern edge of the Sahara desert in North Africa in an area similar in climate to the Colorado Desert and the Coachella Valley.

This species of tortoise can grow to 200 pounds and live for about 150 years. In warmer weather they burrow in sand and have been known to dig up to 10 feet deep in the arid regions of Africa, but in this climate they are generally active and curious foragers.

The resort will offer informal educational talks about the tortoise and the desert environment to kids participating in The Westin Kids Club, beginning this fall.

“We are welcoming Scooter home to The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa where he will be very well-­cared for,” says Dennis Borja, director of fun for The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa. “In our efforts to educate our guests about the desert environment and eco-­‐systems, the arrival of Scooter is living proof that reptiles can and do flourish in an arid environment.”


Reunited: Kyle the tortoise eating again after brother found

Chelmsford Weekly News: Reunited – tortoises Kyle and Jack
Reunited – tortoises Kyle and Jack

A TORTOISE who went on hunger strike is eating again after being reunited with his runaway brother!

The Weekly News last week reported two-year-old Kyle was devastated as he pined for his brother Jack, who went missing two weeks ago.

But Jack, also two, has now been found after burying himself in his owner’s garden.

And with the pair blissfully reunited, Kyle tucked straight back into his first meal in nearly a fortnight.

Mandy Micra-Marciano, of Tavistock Road, Springfield, found the runaway reptile.

She explained: “Jacke wasn’t at all happy to be disturbed, but Kyle is eating again after almost two weeks of refusing to eat.”


Orange Park girls under investigation after graphic video of gopher tortoise torture surfaces

This screen grab from one of the two videos re-posted by Nevada Voters for Animals showing one of the Orange Park girls under investigation holding a baby gopher tortoise seconds before it is thrown, then crushed.  Images provided by Nevada Voters for Animals

Images provided by Nevada Voters for Animals
This screen grab from one of the two videos re-posted by Nevada Voters for Animals showing one of the Orange Park girls under investigation holding a baby gopher tortoise seconds before it is thrown, then crushed.

The graphic video shows two Orange Park girls burning a small gopher tortoise, then laughing and cursing as they throw it down the street.

Then as they scream in laughter and mock horror, a second video shows the tortoise crushed to death.

“His heart came out with a bunch of grass,” the girl with the camera says as she laughs, then kicks the corpse. “He’s dead. That’s funny.”

Uncovered by a Nevada animal abuse group before the girls deleted it from one of their Facebook pages, the two videos are being slammed by animal rights advocates as it goes viral and the girls are being investigated.

Facebook: Nevada animal abuse group’s Facebook page

Clay Humane Executive Director Linda Welzant calls the treatment of the tortoise, officially an endangered species in Florida since 2007, a “cruel and intolerable” act.

“Those can escalate into violence to humans. It is all about teaching your children compassion for all creatures,” Welzant said, adding that she has seen this kind of behavior before.

“Unfortunately yes,” she said. “It is normally their own pets or a neighbor’s pets and it is very troubling that children in our society can do those things or anyone for that matter. … They were actually enjoying themselves.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Karen Parker said her agency is working with the State Attorney’s Office to determine possible charges against the girls, who are 15 and 18 and go to Ridgeview High School, according to a friend and law enforcement officials. Those could fall under state statutes for animal cruelty as well as killing or wounding an endangered species.

“We received quite a few complaints about this and a call from the Sheriff’s Office, so we had an officer go out last night,” Parker said. “… Everybody is pretty much sickened by it and can’t believe someone would do that to an innocent animal.”

The first of the two videos shows the girls dousing the tortoise with alcohol and lighting it ablaze as the creature runs in circles through the flames. The tortoise tries to escape after one of the girls douses it with fluid again.

“Burn baby, burn baby,” one girl says as they light the tortoise on fire. “Now you are scared of us, huh?”

One girl lights a stick on fire and jabs the tortoise, then again.

“He’s — — hissing still,” one says as they pick the struggling animal up.

A girl in a pink top, whose face is seen multiple times, throws the tortoise as the other girl laughs.

“Let’s do it again,” the videographer said. “Let me do it. He’s not dead. He just went in his shell.”

The tortoise is thrown again down the street as the girls laugh.

In the second video one girl stomps on the tortoise until it is dead — its organs forced through a cracked carapace. The girl with the camera puts it down next to the eviscerated tortoise and proclaims, “Dead turtle, everyone.”

A 16-year-old Ridgeview High School classmate and Facebook friend of the two girls said he saw the videos and was disgusted, so he downloaded them and posted some comments on Facebook.

“I love animals and have had a turtle since kindergarten,” the teen told the Times-Union. “… People like that don’t deserve to be on this planet because they took joy and thought it was funny and laughed at it.”

As the videos went viral, they caught the attention of a Las Vegas animal control officer, who told Nevada Voters for Animal president Gina Greisen about them Tuesday night.

“It wasn’t enough that they burned it, then tried to burn its face and threw it and stomped it. All the time, they are angry that it isn’t dead yet,” Greisen said. “It breaks my heart. That video will be indelibly etched in my brain.”

Calling the girls “depraved little minds,” she said she wants them charged with felony animal cruelty, especially after learning they threatened to “make a better one for y’all tomorrow” after negative comments appeared on social media.

Two girls answered the door Wednesday at the home off Blanding Boulevard near Ridgeview High, one with resemblances a girl in the video, but closed it without commenting.

Greisen said one of the girls apparently apologized on social media.

But the actions like those on the video show a complete lack of feeling for a living creature, according to Noelle Pomeroy, a licensed mental health counselor at the University of North Florida’s Counseling Center.

“It is very clear that there is no empathy being displayed at all,” she said. “… There is no clear link between boredom and what they did there. That is merely an excuse for a behavior that almost everyone else who is bored would never think of doing. It seems like a complete disregard for another living thing.”

To alert Fish and Wildlife about other cases, call (888) 404-3922.


Researchers Find Organic Pollutants Not Factor in Turtle Tumor Disease

From NIST Tech Beat: July 15, 2014 Contact: Michael E. Newman 301-975-3025

For nearly four decades, scientists have suspected that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) contributed to a green turtle’s susceptibility to the virus that causes fibropapilomatosis (FP), a disease that forms large benign tumors that can inhibit the animal’s sight, mobility and feeding ability. In a new study,* researchers from the Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML), a government-university partner facility in Charleston, S.C., and from university and federal collaborators in Hawaii demonstrated POPs are not, in fact, a co-factor linked to the increasing number of green sea turtles afflicted with FP.

turtle tumor
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) do not make Hawaiian green sea turtles more susceptible to the large tumors associated with fibropapillomastosis seen in this specimen.Credit: Keller/NIST View hi-resolution image

POPs are a large group of man-made chemicals that, as their name indicates, persist in the environment. They also spread great distances through air and water, accumulate in human and animal tissues, increase in concentration up food chains, and may have carcinogenic and neurodevelopmental effects. POPs include banned substances such as DDT and toxaphenes, once used as pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), once used as insulating fluids; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs), still used as flame retardants. Two previous studies attempting to link POPs and FP were unable to rule out the impact of the pollutants on the disease.

“We wanted to do a thorough study looking at a large, statistically valid population of turtles and using methods that could detect even tiny levels of POPs in their tissues,” says National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research biologist Jennifer Keller, lead author on the paper appearing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Keller and her colleagues collected turtle blood samples at four locations across Hawaii, each one having a different prevalence of FP—none, low, moderate and high—in the marine turtle population residing there. “We analyzed the plasma for 164 different organic compounds to see if POP concentrations increased with increasing prevalence of FP,” Keller says. “We also looked at the levels of halogenated phenols, chemicals which can come from either man-made [POP] sources or naturally from the green turtle’s main food source, marine algae.”

The researchers discovered that increasing POP concentrations did not correspond with a like rise in the numbers of FP tumors observed. “Our findings show that POPs are not the trigger for FP, so we can eliminate these pollutants from future studies trying to explain why the disease is more common in certain areas or why its prevalence is changing with time,” Keller says.

As for halogenated phenols, the team found that the sampled turtles did have detectable concentrations of the compounds. “While it’s a novel discovery for sea turtles, we believe that these phenols are likely from the turtle’s diet of algae rather than man-made POPs,” Keller explains.

Collaborating with Keller were researchers from Hawaiian branches of two federal agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as from Hawaii Pacific University and the Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

The HML is a unique partnership of governmental and academic organizations including NIST, NOAA’s National Ocean Service, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

*J.M. Keller, G.H. Balazs, F. Nilsen, M. Rice, T.M. Work and B.A. Jensen. Investigating the potential role of persistent organic pollutants in Hawaiian green sea turtle fibropapillomatosis. Environmental Science and Technology. Accepted for publication June 25, 2014, DOI: 10.1021/es5014054


What can we do to save the hawksbill sea turtles?

( / 15 July 2014

A beautiful docile animal, older than the dinosaur, has been traversing the waters of the Arabian Gulf for hundreds of thousands of years. But, as Amanda Fisher finds out, its population is seriously on the wane due to its biggest predator: Man

It is with some despondency the man charged with preserving the dwindling population of hawksbill sea turtles in the UAE accepts that his own species is his biggest obstacle.

“The number of turtles is decreasing, it’s not increasing so far,” Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF project manager Moaz Sawaf tells me about the three-year progress of the conservation project he is heading.

“Unfortunately the threats the turtles have are basically due to man.”

He goes on to detail a quadruplet of threats the hawksbill must try to evade if it is to survive: people taking turtle eggs from their nests along beaches; fishing nets accidentally entrapping them; boats and ships running them over as they come up to the surface for oxygen, as they do every few hours; and threats to their habitats and nesting areas through onshore and coastal development.

MAINTAINING THE BALANCE. Hawksbill sea turtles are very important for the eco system. “What they feed on and what

MAINTAINING THE BALANCE. Hawksbill sea turtles are very important for the eco system. “What they feed on and what they eat, helps maintain the balance and the cycle of life or nature. When you have one species gone, that’s going to effect the entire environment,” says Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF project manager Moaz Sawaf. —Photo Amanda Fisher

Development and conservation, Sawaf says, are often in a state of conflict, especially as the country diversifies into tourism, with international sun-worshippers seeking sandy beach getaways in 5-star resorts.

“Development is going to happen, but it can happen in a sustainable way.”

The same goes for boating and fishing — Sawaf says these too must happen in concert with conservation efforts.

It is an absurd notion that in a land which now has an embarrassment of foods thanks to global transportation, that people would need to poach turtle eggs to survive. So why are these treasures being snatched?

Sawaf says it is not about food or the exotic trade, but ancient beliefs about the powers the eggs hold.

“The turtle eggs have no value, some people take them for beliefs, they’re not taken and sold on the black market.

“There are some people who think eating turtle eggs can enhance your sexual ability but scientifically it’s not been proven, it’s just one of those myths — doctors, they will tell you it’s rubbish.”

New Discovery

During the project, now in its fourth year, scientists have made some interesting discoveries — and potentially pinpointed yet another threat to the turtle population.

In the first three years of the programme, conservation workers found and tagged 75 turtles, 25 each year, in the UAE, Oman, Iran and Qatar.

They have analysed data about the turtles’ movement, transmitted by the tags, and all of the information is now being prepared for a report due out by the year’s end.

However, there have been several scientific papers recently published as result of the programme, including a paper detailing findings of a new path of turtle migration not previously known.

The turtles’ tags send signals of their locations every time they surface, and based on these readings, EWS-WWF along with Environment Abu Dhabi went to the locations to physically check, using an underwater video camera, whether the turtles had converged in one spot and whether it was a feeding habitat or resting place.

“That basically posed a lot of questions to be answered, does this change (anything), is this migration due to climate change or temperature?”

Sawaf is hesitant to make any predictions too soon, but says climate change could certainly be the culprit.

“You know it could be, we cannot say no…oceans and seas are really affected by climate change.”

The Hawksbill turtle, which is scattered throughout the world’s oceans including the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, is listed as critically endangered by conservation authority the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

However, it is unknown how many remain in the world and Sawaf is no wiser about their status in this region.

“Honestly I don’t know, I don’t have an estimate. The population we don’t know, that will be another project.”

The survival of the hawksbill — one of seven marine turtle species — and all sea turtles is critical.

“You’re talking one of the oldest surviving species. They’re very important for the eco system… what they feed on and what they eat, that helps maintain the balance and the cycle of life or nature. When you have one species gone, that’s going to effect the entire environment.”

And it would not only impact the marine ecosystem, but the tourism ecosystem too.

“I don’t know whether this is fortunate or unfortunate, but turtles play a big part in tourism. People like them so much… they attract people from all over the world.”

Sawaf says Hatta is well-known across the world for its turtle nesting sites.

“You will find people from Europe, from the States… they fly all this way to see turtles nesting or eggs hatching… they play a big part in tourism, I think it’s good but they it needs to be well-managed, not exploited.”

While in the protected beaches, there are strict regulations about how many tourists can visit the turtles per day and per season and they must visit with a guide, “outside the protected areas it’s not happening so much”

“Some people may go with their flashlights, which turtles are very sensitive to… that person probably doesn’t know… he’s disturbing that turtle.”

While most people don’t wish to harm the turtles, they can often do so without realising. And it’s easy to see why; these gentle giants — which can grow up to one metre long and weigh more than 100 kilograms — are notoriously placid.

“They are very peaceful animals. Even when we’re tagging the turtles, she’s very quiet, she’s not attacking or kicking or biting. You have to remember turtles existed more than 100 million years ago, they’re as old as the dinosaur.”


Without commenting too much on what needs to happen, due to be outlined in the final report when it comes out later this year, Sawaf says the two key pillars for change are education and regulation.

“What can be done? I think a few things… awareness needs to be more focused, education and awareness. We hope from not only the UAE government but governments in the region to take some action basically from the protected areas, put more rules and regulations in place.”

That means starting awareness campaigns that will reach all segments of society, in conjunction with EWS-WWF’s partner organisations in the UAE, Oman, Iran and Qatar.

“In each country we have a partner, whether it’s the Ministry of Environment, or sometimes it’s a university or institute… we don’t like to go and do the work alone, we always get our partners and sponsors involved.”

In March, the team did a three-day workshop in Dubai for all of their partners to share with them the findings from the project so far, to discuss the next steps.

“We agreed we would all still work together in the effort to save and preserve the hawksbill turtles.”

Sawaf also expects to identify areas where more conservation regulations need to be implemented, particularly around areas of habitation.

“What makes it difficult in the Gulf is the nature of the habitat here. The feeding habitats are not confined to one area, they’re scattered all over the place, it doesn’t make it impossible, but it makes it more difficult.”

As opposed to other countries which have three or four main turtle feeding sites, almost half of the country’s coastline is a habitat here as the micro-coral and sponge the turtles feed on are scattered around the coastline.

But Sawaf remains optimistic about the task ahead:

“I’m sure we can bring the population back up, with more effort I’m sure they will have a chance to recover.”




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