FORT WORTH, TEXAS, Dec. 19 -/E-Wire/-The Fort Worth Zoo is pooling its resources for a rare rescue mission of nearly 7,500 critically endangered turtles, which were confiscated in Hong Kong on December 10, 2001. Without these quick-paced conservation efforts, the animals faced certain death.
Destined for the illegal food trade, the shipment of turtles, valued at $3.2 million, was in route to China when intercepted by Hong Kong customs.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it’s illegal to import or export endangered species without proper permits.
The shipment, the largest seizure of live turtles in Hong Kong, was transported to Kadoorie Farms Botanic Gardens, Hong Kong, for identification and initial triage.
Of the 7,500 turtles and tortoises, 90 percent are ranked as Critical, Endangered or Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The number of harvested turtles and tortoises continues to exponentially grow at unsustainable rates, so much so that biologists have recognized the Asian turtle crisis as one of the largest wildlife catastrophes of our time.
In late December,the first shipment of confiscated turtles will arrive in Miami, Florida, where a multidisciplinary team, spearheaded by Rick Hudson (Fort Worth Zoo Conservation Biologist) and Kurt Buhlmann (Conservation International), Co-Chairs of the Turtle Survival Alliance will develop "Assurance Colonies" of endangered turtles.
Located throughout the United States, the "Assurance Colonies" will maintain these species for their eventual recovery.
"Currently, seized turtles are simply destroyed because there is no place for them, and they are already sick or injured," said Hudson. "In need of intensive veterinary treatment, the turtles can’t be released back into the wild.
"Before the creation of the TSA, confiscated turtles were disposed of in an effort to curb illegal harvesting. The TSA provides an ideal option, which channels these turtles into captive programs where they can be rehabilitated and managed long-term.
It’s a win-win situation for all involved, especially the turtles." The TSA is a 130-member strong conservation success story (see attached fact sheet for more information on this organization).
Representatives from the Fort Worth Zoo will arrive in Miami in late December, to assist with rehabilitating the animals, maintaining a centralized database on all individuals and finding appropriate homes.
Not an easy task once you consider everything that must be done for each turtle—stabilizing, assessing medical needs, weighing, measuring, drawing blood, sexing and marking all 7,500 specimens.
Not to mention, convincing other zoos, universities and private breeders to make room for new turtles and carefully shipping each to its future home.
"The number of people in the TSA network who have rallied to this crisis is amazing," Hudson continued.
"Placing each of these turtles in captive environments is of utmost importance. Without the partnerships created by the TSA, the turtles were doomed. Their overall survival depends upon this unique partnership."
Six Asian Mountain Tortoises found among the shipment will be returning with Fort Worth Zoo representatives in January.
The Fort Worth Zoo is one of the vital TSA partners providing a safe haven in which these turtles will eventually breed, thereby helping save a dozen species from the brink of extinction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
CONTACT: Lyndsay Nantz
Fort Worth Zoo
Phone: 817/759-7362, pgr 817/227-0740
Mindia Whittier, Communications Manager
Phone: 817/759-7360, pgr 817/432-8427.