Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Some turtles' long walk to extinction may not be that slow

By Chris Davis (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-06-07 10:38

It's hard to imagine a better way to mark World Turtle Day.

Reuters reports that a marine conservation group, on an expedition to crack down on illegal fishing, sprung to the aid of an injured loggerhead turtle they saw foundering off the coast of Liberia.

A diving crew responded and brought the 250-pound 3-foot-long turtle to safety aboard a ship run by Sea Shepherd Global, a Dutch conservation group, on May 23.

Named Stella by the crew, the turtle had dislocated its front right flipper and was suffering from too much air trapped underneath its shell, the organization told Reuters.

"These are common injuries for sea turtles, either sustained by ship-strikes or when roughly discarded from a fishing vessel," Sea Shepherd said.

The turtle was taken to a wildlife sanctuary in Monrovia, where it is recuperating.

World Turtle Day was started 17 years ago by American Tortoise Rescue (ATR) to raise awareness and help protect turtles and tortoises, which face disappearing habitat worldwide. Since its founding in 1990, ATR has placed about 4,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes, according to the organization's website.

ATR says we live in "a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world," what they call "the world's oldest creatures", having been around for 200 million years. Now, they are disappearing because of habitat destruction, "the cruel pet trade", climate change, smuggling and the exotic food industry.

Difficult to know what fate was in store for the 70 spotted turtles and 100 eastern box turtles wildlife inspectors found wrapped in men's socks and stuffed into cardboard boxes headed to China in a Los Angeles post office on June 9, as the LA Times reported. There was no return address on the packages.

Conservationists say these relatively common species native to the US fetch up to $1,000 each on the black market in China, where their red and gold markings make them harbingers of good fortune.

Craig Stanford, a biologist at USC, told the Times it was "a perverse equation" that "the rarer a creature gets the more valuable it becomes".

According to the nonprofit Turtle Conservancy's Behler Chelonian Center in Ventura County, whose mission is to maintain colonies of endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, there are only about 350 ploughshare tortoises left on earth.

And ever since some deluded poacher claimed that extracts from golden coin turtles cure cancer, they have been selling for up to $50,000 each.

"Wild turtle and tortoise populations are crashing around the world," James Liu, a veterinarian at the center and an expert on illegal reptile trafficking, told the Times. "And reasons for that include ultra-rich folks in China who these days collect, farm and show off turtles at events the size of auto trade shows.

"These turtle extravaganzas," he said, "feature dancers, 100-foot-tall video screens and long banquet tables serving turtle soup and chopped turtle meat fried, sauteed and smothered in sauce spiced with rare herbs."

According to the ATR, biologists predict the disappearance of turtles and tortoises within the next 50 years. They suggest a few things people in the US can do to help turn the tide.

Don't buy a turtle at a pet shop - it only increases demand from the wild. Never remove a turtle from the wild, and if you see a tortoise trying to cross a busy highway, pick it up and send it off safely in the direction it was headed.

"If you try to make it go back," they say, "it will turn right around again."

Such stubbornness could work to their benefit in the long run.

Contact the writer at


Most Popular
Hot Topics
The Week in Photos