December 27, 2008
Letter to the Editor
SOUP AND SUPERSTITION
"Asian appetite for turtles" is only half the problem. "American greed
profits" is equally reprehensible ("Asia appetite for turtles seen as
a threat to Florida
Concerns with the turtle trade are three-fold: environmental, human
health, and staggering animal cruelty. The California markets can legally
sell only two
species of live turtles, the spiny softshell and the
red-eared slider. Neither is native to California.
When released into
local waters (an illegal but common practice), they displace and prey upon
our native wildlife. Two years ago the California Fish & Game Commission
the Department to ban the importation of these animals. We're
More than 25 recent necropsies have shown the market turtles (and frogs)
to be rife with
E. coli, salmonella and pasturella (all of which can kill
you), as well as giardia, blood parasites,
even one case of malaria. I'd
sooner eat a dead rat. State law prohibits the sale of such
human consumption, yet the practice continues unabated.
turtles and frogs are routinely kept without food or water, stacked
five and six deep, and often
butchered alive. State Penal Code 597.3
provides for minimal humane treatment but goes unforced,
due to public
apathy and the dearth of game wardens.
We need state
and federal legislation before we lose an entire family of
animals, one that's been around
for 200 million years. And for what?
Soup and superstition.
Eric Mills, coordinator
ACTION FOR ANIMALS
P.O. Box 20184
Oakland, CA 94620
Los Angeles Times
Letter to the Editor
LOOK AT THE NUMBERS
I'm a retired California game warden with over 26 years of service
who worked and later supervised for 20 years the enforcement effort
of the live animal markets in the San Francisco
Bay area. Upon my
retirement and turning to consulting I was hired to travel the state
and make a detailed
study of the live animal trade. The result was a
lengthy report that covered all aspects of the business: economic
incentives, health issues, cultural bias, politics, rules and
regulations, species selection and environmental impacts.
hurdle was to question any agency, dealer or animal activist when
they quoted numbers. I found most
agencies claimed they had used
"scientific methods" and strict protocol to arrive at their figures.
I found was someone on top made a phone call to a subordinate
who repeated the call down the chain to some poor overworked
biologist or clerk. The request was often accompanied by a demand
for an answer in
short period of time. The unubstantiated number was then
sent back up the chain of command to be manipulated
by the PR person to
fit the political climate at the time. I know I witnessed my department
do this many times.
Statistics from business suffered a similar fate.
The numbers often reflected not fact but were adjusted to meet the
of quotas, tax scales or to avoid social conflicts. Over the years I've
seen many well meaning
reporters who were pushed with deadlines go
straight to the top for an answer. In the real world the boss has little
knowledge of many of the particulars in the business. However a number
is given and since it came from the top
person the public takes it as
Your reporter states that the Asian consumption has
all but wiped out
the wild turtle populations in many parts of Asia and now
conservationists in the US fear for
the survival of our native
species. I agree with that statement but I believe our turtle
are far lower then what is being reported from the state
conservation agencies. By the mid 1990's California
saw a huge
increase in the number of imported live turtles from other states.
Obviously we were alarmed and by
working with other conservation
groups we were able to get harvest statistics from the fish and
in other states. For example in 1194 Oklahoma
reported a harvest of just over 10,000 market turtles. Just
years later in 1997 their records show a harvest of 105,000 turtles;
a tenfold increase in just three years.
Every other state that
reported had the same large increases in a very short time. Several
importers in the
Bay Area alone went from 500 turtles a week to 4-5,000 a week. It's
worth mentioning at the time none
of the states seem concerned and few
had any laws regulating the amount of turtles subject to harvest. The
increased number of imported animals led to a growing market and
eventually supply fell short of demand.
Wardens then began to see the
gap filled by non permitted and protected turtles as the suppliers
struggled to meet
market quotas. Turtle "wranglers" expanded their
territory and little was done to regulate them.
Twelve years has passed since the report from Oklahoma and besides
California continuing to
receive large shipments, China and other
Asian countries now import from all over the US.
Considering a turtles survival rate in the wild, the time it takes to
grow to reproductive maturity and the mass destruction
of its habitat
common sense would lead one to believe the numbers have to be very
low. Florida "estimates"
they have from 4 to 20 million softshells
left in the state. If the authorities in Florida have a give or
take range of 16 million turtles it seems to me what they are really
saying is we don't have a clue as to the true
isn't any worse then any of the other states, protection of turtles
was never at
the top of anyones list.
The question now is how will everybody deal with it. First they
decide whether or not they want to utilize the resources needed to
protect whats left of the native populations.
If the answer is in
the affirmative then they must accept the realistic viewpoint that
the populations are much
lower then then what they report. Finally
they must spend more time making and enforcing protective
and less time crying to the press about how bad things
are. The bottom line is the turtle trade is now big
the lure of the almighty dollar, culture clashes and trade policies
may carry more weight then conservation
issues. Hopefully those who
care are also those in a position to act and when they realize the
numbers of animals taken every year they will move to protect
Miles Young DFG Pt/Lt (Retired)