Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 1:13-14
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

Current Review on China Food Market/Turtle Crisis

William McCord
East Fishkill Animal Hospital, 285 Route 82, Hopewell Junction, NY 12533

There is a lot happening around the world on behalf of turtles right now! Much of which is already discussed in other articles within this newsletter, so I would like to briefly note some pros and cons of the current situation. My information and perspectives come fiom having visited China and from working with the “major players” in the Asian/Chinese turtle scene since the early 1980’s.

1. “Influential” people in the USA, Europe and SE Asia are meeting to discuss concerns about turtles.

2. Articles about turtles are being written and published in many popular, well-distributed Western publications. Even one article in a Hong Kong newspaper recently discussed the turtle crisis.

3. The declaration in a court case by one of the owners of a very large Cuora trifasciata “cancer cure” factory, that they lied about the turtle being responsible for a cure.

4. The government of China “appears” to be listening and new laws are said to be forthcoming.

5. A few private citizens and zoos within China are expressing concern.

6. A spirit of cooperation is developing between governments, zoos and private people worldwide working together to solve this problem

7. CITES proposals are being considered in the spirit of protecting some of the turtles. People with power are seeking a way to help.

1. There has been no official government sponsored meetings of Chinese turtle people, known so far, within China.

2. IF China is listening, rumor has it that their probable response will be to close down only export of it’s own turtles as of March 2000. Without stopping the trade of its indigenous species from within, this will further ensure their extinction by stopping the rest of the world from obtaining more Chinese turtles for captive breeding. Also it is estimated that 80% of the turtles sold in Chinese markets come from other countries. The control or banning of turtles imported into China must also be considered. The world’s “turtle” people are concerned with all the turtles of the world, not just Chinese species. To seriously attack the problem, China, countries exporting their turtles to China (embarrassingly this includes the U.S.), and the airlines would also have to stop allowing turtles to be labeled and shipped inhumanely as seafood or catfish to evade quotas, regulations, and /or to get cheaper freight fees.

3. What should the people with “power” do? This question does not have a simple answer. CITES with very good data and the best of intentions is likely to “soon” declare all Cuora as appendix II. I fully respect the intentions of this tactic, but will it solve the problem?

On one side I say it’s not enough and may be too late for some of the Cuora! C. trifasciata, C. aurocapitata, C. Mccordi, C. zhoui, and C. pani realistically should be App. I now!

On the other side, I see App. I or II status either eliminating non-Chinese people from the future of some Cuora or making it more difficult than it presently is to obtain any Chinese Cuora. It would be harder for breeders to internationally exchange captive offspring. If China does remain “open” to export, the prices of the Cites App. II Cuora would go even higher, and some of these turtles already sell for $2,000 US each, again making it more difficult for non-Chinese breeders to obtain Cuora. As for non-Chinese Cuora, the primary species involved would be C. amboinensis which definitely has a major presence in the food markets of China (C. galbinifrons to a lesser degree). But realistically, IF China respects Cites App. II and stops C. amboinensis from being imported without permits, I suspect other species will fill the gap, assuming exporting countries (for example, Indonesia) don’t issue Cites II permits for unlimited C. amboinensis anyway.

My instincts tell me we have something good in motion. I’m not opposed to CITES doing what it thinks is best for the cause, and I truly hope their efforts produce positive results for turtles everywhere, but most important is that they presently are working for the turtles and want to help. It’s up to us turtle people to speak up and help them figure the pros and cons of their actions.

Questions about solutions
1. Is there a way to encourage China to stop importing turtles for food and medicine, and to shut down the markets within it’s own borders? Would education about mythical cures and public health issues help? Does China care about its world image?

2. Is there a way to encourage China’s non-Chinese turtle suppliers (present and future) to stop exporting turtles to China? Would replacing profit with fines and punishment make a difference? Would they like public recognition for what they do?

3. Is there a way to encourage all CITES signatory countries and all airlines to enforce present and future laws? I am afraid if the pro-turtle countries follow the rules while the turtle profiting and eating countries don’t, it’s not going to work!

Maybe while China is listening and powerful people want to help we should all turn up the noise!!? The people that supply the markets are vulnerable, not only through CITES regulations, but also IATA shipping regulations, fines imposed on airlines for breaking rules, bad publicity for airlines shipping turtles (don’t forget seafood and catfish labels, plus whitewashing shipments through Bangkok and Singapore must be stopped), and quota systems in some countries that are presently not followed. Isn’t it interesting how Indonesia can bypass all of it’s own reptile regulations and laws set by the ministry of Forestry (Dept. PKA). This is done either by shipping turtles openly mislabeled as fish/seafood without inspection via its Dept. of Fisheries or even worse quite often without any permits as just “general freight” valued at $2.50US/Kg, regardless of the species enclosed. Bangladesh has strict rules for shipments labeled turtles, yet large “fish (turtle)” shipments don’t have these same rules!?

Don’t give up, there is strength in numbers and our numbers are growing!!