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Green Sea Turtles Die on Farm – Do Meat-Trade Turtles Aid Conservation?

Green Sea TurtleAn accident that caused the deaths of 299 endangered Green Turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm has raised concerns about the facility’s operation. The incident brought other issues to my mind as well.  I was first inspired by the legendary herpetologist Archie Carr, and have since been involved in several field studies of Green, Leatherback and other marine turtles (please see article below).  I see the value in organizations such as Cayman Turtle Farm, which raises turtles for the food market while also racking up important “firsts” in breeding and research.  However, many disagree with me.  What’s your opinion?  Any comments you may wish to post below would be much appreciated.

Conservation through Commercialization

Whatever your personal feelings concerning the consumption of turtles or other animals may be, it is clear that commercial farming can play a role in Chinese Softshellconservation. The classic US example is the American Alligator.  Legal protections helped, of course, but large scale breeding for the meat and hide trade made a huge difference in that species’ future. 

More recently, the farming of Chinese Softshell Turtles has been advanced as a means to ease the “Asian Turtle Crisis” (please see article below).  Herp hobbyists are now breeding species that were unknown even in zoos in years past, often eliminating the financial incentive for collecting wild specimens in the process (please see Do Reptile Hobbyists Help or Hinder Conservation?).  At least one conservation organization, Wikiri, is now funding research by breeding frogs for the pet trade (please see this article).

Just last month, I had the thrilling opportunity to meet Jack Rudloe, a legendary naturalist whose work has influenced me since childhood.  We spoke about “practical conservation” and, while there are many gray areas, it is clear to me that we cannot operate in a vacuum when the needs of people and animals collide.  If this subject interests you, I highly recommend his Time of the Turtle, which combines fact, observations and a premier conservationist’s thoughts in the style of Ditmars, Pritchard and other greats…a rare treat.  The Sea Brings Forth and his other books are also unequalled…you’ll not be disappointed!

Turtle Deaths at Cayman Turtle Farm

Green Sea Trutle FarmOn July 16, 2012, a leaking underground pipe led to the deaths of 299 3-5 year-old Green Turtles.  As marine turtles can survive for quite some time without water, concerns were raised as to why the problem was not discovered sooner.  Other questions arose as to the propriety of keeping so many individuals in the same tank and regarding the 2 week interval between the incident and public disclosure.

While the Cayman Turtle Farm has an impressive conservation record, its operation has not been problem-free.  An attempt to ship live Green Turtles to Europe was in violation of CITES regulations, and waves from a 2001 hurricane released 75% of the farm’s breeding stock.

In a press release, Cayman Turtle Farms stated that new safeguards, including a backup water supply, have been installed.

Conservation at Cayman Turtle Farm

Green Turtles FeedingFounded in 1968, the Cayman Turtle Farm is the island’s largest land-based tourist attraction. It was originally conceived as a means of producing Green Turtle meat via breeding as opposed to hunting. Over time, a significant research/conservation component was added.  Turtles hatched at the farm mated and nested in 1975, a first time event that has not been accomplished elsewhere.

In 1980, a breeding program was undertaken to further the conservation of the Kemp’s Ridley Turtle. In 1984, the farm became the only facility to have bred this highly endangered reptile in captivity.

Second generation Green Turtle hatchlings were produced in 1989, and to date 31,000 have been released in conjunction with a “head-starting” effort. This year (2012), a second generation Green Turtle was released and is being monitored via satellite tag. This study, the only one of its kind, may provide important information on the adaptations of captive-bred turtles to the wild.  Given marine turtles’ extensive travels and complex mating strategies, herpetologists are very interested in the outcome. You can follow this turtle, known as “Jerry”, here 

 

 

Further Reading

Tagging Green Turtles in Costa Rica

Time of the Turtle, by Jack Rudloe: (reviews)

The Asian Turtle Crisis

Cayman Turtle Farm Conservation Programs  

News Report and Turtle Farm Statement

 
Green Sea Turtle image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Brocken Inaglory
Green Sea Turtle Farm image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Burtonpe
Green Sea Turtle Feeding image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Lhb1239
Chinese Softshell Turtle Farm image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Clunio

8 comments

  1. avatar

    thanks for the informative blog. This issue really touches my heart. I am a novice at environmental studies (with only a few college courses under my belt), however, I lack the naivety of companies with a facade of good intentions. I think it is terrible that the issue was not resolved or foreseen as these are very amazing creatures.

  2. avatar

    Hello Mr. Indiviglio,

    I have now successfully moved to MD, just outside of Baltimore. Do you know of any turtle or reptile rescues and such that might have Muskies aound here? I’m hell-bent on rescuing one and I’ll only buy one from online as a last resort.

    I’ve even been scouring craigslist for the past week and I’ve only found one there but he was too far south. Thanks!

    Cheers, Alex

  3. avatar

    Oh yes, I’ve checked with them many times. As of yet they still don’t have any. Today though a friend of mine gave me what would be a 3 or 4 foot Northern Pine Snake. He seems fairly tame, except for hissing a bit when held. Would you have any info on these guys? I appreciate your tolerance of all my antics!

    Also, it turns out that Dumeril’s really are snake eaters as he bit the Pine while I was moving them around. Either that or he’s really friendly to people, but aggressive towards other snakes as I had just fed him prior to the bite.

    Cheers, Alex

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Mid-Atlantic is the best known local turtle society…I don’t believe musk turtles commonly appear as animals in need of placement; not often kept, other than by people interested in the family.

      Pine Snake care is similar to that of the Black Rat Snake; please see this article for details and let me know if you need any more info. A partially-buried hide box is favored by some, as they are burrowers, but not strictly necessary. You might also enjoy this on the natural history of the Black Pine Snake, the rarest species.

      Most snakes will bite at others when disturbed – the scent/sight of an intruder is cause for alarm. Best not to mix snakes from different parts of the world, even briefly. parasites/bacteria that are relatively harmless to one can be fatal to others (similar to tourists getting sick after drinking tap water in foreign countries).

      Best, Frank

  4. avatar

    I’ve known first hand about the foreign water part, many times in fact! I don’t even know how they got close to each other as they were in seperate bins. It seemed less of a general bite and more of an actually predation since she coiled around the Pine and I had to try hard to remove her. The only other time I’ve seen this was with Kings (Both colubrids and elapids) eating other snakes.

    Thanks for the info!

    Cheers, Alex

    • avatar

      Interesting observation Alex, thanks. Could be – quite a few snakes prey on others on occasion, more than originally believed. I often come across surprising notes on this in the Natural History section of Herpetological Review. Please keep me posted, Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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