Singapore, 8 July 2015 — Over 4,400 freshwater turtles, among them the critically endangered Palawan forest turtles, were bound to be sent from their native Palawan, in the Philippines, to markets in China when rescuers made the devastating discovery.
The animals – including 3,907 Palawan forest turtles, 168 Asian leaf turtles and 25 Southeast Asian box turtles – were handed over to Katala Foundation Inc (KFI), a Philippine wildlife NGO, for safekeeping and rehabilitation. Wildlife Reserves Singapore has for the last three years provided on-going financial support to the KFI conservation efforts for the Philippine forest turtle, Palawan pangolin and Philippine cockatoo.
Many of the turtles were on the verge of death, or were in bad condition from months of neglect in captivity, showing major symptoms of dehydration as well as severe shell necrosis, ocular lesions and bite wounds. An urgent appeal to the global turtle community was issued to assist these threatened animals.
Among the first rescue team members to arrive in Palawan was Dr Sonja Luz, Director of Conservation and Research, Wildlife Reserves Singapore. WRS immediately committed help with medical supplies and equipment, and a donation of SGD15,000 to fund the rehabilitation process. Dr Luz, a trained vet, brought these supplies with her and, together with international veterinary colleagues from Hong Kong Ocean Park, Turtle Conservancy and Turtle Survival Alliance, attended to the medical needs of the turtles.
She said, “It was overwhelming in the beginning to be on ground attending to the thousands of turtles struggling for their survival, but the good news is that because of the amazing local and international team efforts, most of these animals could be rehabilitated. To all of us involved, it is frustrating and devastating that the majority of people do not understand how the demand for wild animals and their body parts is driving countless species in this region to extinction. Only if we can stop the demand and stop people from buying products will we have a chance to beat illegal wildlife trade.”
The turtles are believed to have been collected over several months from across their native range of northern Palawan, and were bound for markets in China.
Demand for animal skin, meat, and body parts as well as for pets is on the rise with growing affluence and purchasing power, and thousands of animal species like the Palawan freshwater turtle are being driven towards an accelerated extinction. Wildlife Reserves Singapore works closely with like-minded partners such as TRAFFIC to curb illegal wildlife trade, and launched the You Buy They Die campaign in March 2015.
According to reports in the Philippines, authorities have arrested the caretaker of the warehouse in which the turtles were found. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development enforcers and members of the Provincial Law Enforcement Task Force were preparing to file charges against a Chinese national believed to be the owner of the warehouse.
When making future visits to Wildlife Reserves Singapore parks—Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, River Safari and Singapore Zoo—look out for the You Buy They Die interpretive and learn more about what can be done to stop illegal wildlife trade.