Members of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians and other related exotic animal medicine and conservation organizations received an email about the Palawan turtle crisis from the Turtle Conservancy in June 2015:
Our message today is so urgent, and so important to the continued survival of a critically endangered species, that we are jointly requesting your help alongside our friends and colleagues at the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG), and the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF).
Yesterday, authorities in Palawan confiscated over 4,000 turtles just before they were to be shipped out from their native island in the Philippines. More than 3,800 of them were endemic Philippine Forest Turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis), a species that exists only in a very small area in the northern end of Palawan. This number exceeds our current understanding of the existing wild population, and it would take decades for this slow-growing species to possibly recover from the effects of this massive, highly coordinated poaching event. Our concern is that the species may never recover from these staggering losses unless immediate action is taken.
Although supplies are not currently needed, financial contributions are still needed for this conservation effort. To learn more visit the Turtle Survival Alliance and Turtle Conservancy. These worthy organizations are entirely separate with independent funding.
Emeraid off to Palawan
Lafeber Company answered the call, immediately sending cases of Exotic Emeraid and metal feeding needles by way of the Turtle Survival Center Veterinary Care Manager, who transported the shipment from the USA to the Philippines. The Province of Palawan, is an island province of the Philippines, located in the MIMAROPA region.
Volunteers to the Rescue
Roughly 2,400 turtles were deemed healthy and were immediately released. Approximately 1,000 live turtles were not so fortunate and required intensive medical care. Crisis organization and management of volunteers were jointly managed by Turtle Conservancy and Turtle Survival Alliance.
Shown here, veterinarians and veterinary technicians examine and treat turtles.
Shown here, Dr. Charles Innis of New England Aquarium is pictured in the foreground during the initial examination, sorting, and marking turtles. Drs.Paolo Martelli and Paul Gibbons can be seen farther back. Watch your step, Dr. Innis!
Shown here, Ihsaan Sebro of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Dr. Charles Innis of the New England Aquarium mix up Emeraid Omnivore for turtle patients.
Click here to learn more about the Emeraid Exotic Nutritional Care System.
Remember gravity is a friend when tube feeding chelonians. The turtle is held anterior-posterior during the procedure and for a least a few minutes afterwards.
Shown here, volunteer veterinary technician, Olivia Vandersanden.
Shown here, turtles are transported for release.
Philippine Forest Turtle
Of the 4,000 turtles confiscated, nearly 3,800 were critically endangered Philippine forest turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis), endemic to the island of Palawan. Rediscovered in Northern Palawan in 2004, this species has a very restricted range. The numbers seized in this confiscation exceed the understanding of what the wild population was thought to be and sent shock waves through turtle conservation groups.
This extremely delicate and sensitive species was handled like “sacks of potatoes” and stored on concrete floors without food and water for a prolonged period of time in a Chinese-owned warehouse. The illegal turtle trade is organized by the same syndicates that drive the trade of rhinoceros, elephants, tigers and pangolins in Southeast Asia.
Shown here, a large male S. leytensis released into the forest.
With too many animals to track individually, turtles were marked to track health status. Each color mark denotes health status determined via physical examination performed every 3 days.
This collaborative effort involved many turtle groups and conservation organizations working together, not the least of which includes the Katala Foundation, Inc. a non-profit and non-governmental organization active in protecting and conserving wildlife. The Katala Foundation has been engaged in conservation efforts for Philippine forest turtle since 2007. Thus far captive breeding has not yet been successful due to its high sensitivity to stress.
Shown here, this Siebenrockiella leytensis is feeling better!
Efforts are underway by turtle and conservation groups to draft a letter from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Survival Group to the Philippine Authorities (Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Manila and Palawan) supporting and praising the enforcement work carried out by the Philippine government, which led to the seizure in June as well as the collaboration between the Katala Foundation and the government. This document may serve to promote prosecution of the poachers.
Visiting Europe in September? Katala Foundation staff will attend the European Association of Zoo and Aquariums Annual Conference in Wroclaw, Poland and they will be on hand to answer questions.
Although supplies are not currently needed, financial contributions are still needed for this conservation effort. To learn more visit Turtle Conservancy and the Turtle Survival Alliance. These worthy organizations are entirely separate with independent funding.