Tue, May 26, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Exhibition urges conservation of freshwater turtle

PRIZED CATCH:Commanding sums of about NT$10,000 per 500g in China, poaching of the yellow-margined box turtle has been rising due to its perceived medicinal value

By Wang Yang-yu and Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Luodong Forest District Office is holding an exhibition to promote public awareness of conservation efforts for the yellow-margined box turtle, as poaching and smuggling has been on the rise due to the protected species’ increasing market value in China.

The exhibition at the Luodong Forestry Cultural Garden in Yilan County runs through June 21 to advocate conservation of the box turtle and other protected species. Various hunting gear is to be on display, including bird-catching nets and mouse traps, the office said.

The office urges the public to protect the yellow-margined box turtle — classified as a “rare and valuable species” in the nation’s three-category wildlife protection list — and not to eat, trade or hunt the reptile.

The office has removed about 720 turtle traps over the past five years, Luodong Forest District Office Director Lin Hao-chen (林澔貞) said, adding that the Coast Guard Administration and other agencies have seized more than 15,000 protected turtles being exported illegally.

Hunting poses the biggest threat to the endangered species, she said.

National Pingtung University of Science and Technology wildlife conservation professor Chen Tien-hsi (陳添喜) said that the trading price of adult box turtles in China is about NT$10,000 per 500g, which has made the turtle a coveted prize for poachers and smugglers.

China has created a global market for the yellow-margined box turtle — which is believed to hold a variety of medicinal properties — leading to aggressive harvesting of the turtles, he said, adding that habitat damage also threatens the species.

Some poachers exploit legal loopholes by saying that they “found” the reptiles they hunted when confronted by forestry officials, Chen said.

To close the loopholes, the central government should set a turtle possession limit by amending the Wild Animal Protection Act (野生動物保育法), he said.

National Ilan University forestry professor Mao Jean-jay (毛俊傑) said that the box turtle is in its most active season and people spotting them should refrain from posting the turtles’ whereabouts online to help curb poaching.

The yellow-margined box turtle is found in low-altitude forests in subtropical regions and is the only freshwater turtle found in Taiwan, according to the Taipei Feitsui Reservoir Administration.

When threatened, the turtle can retract its head, limbs and tail into its shell and bring its lower portion, the plastron, up to its carapace, inspiring the name box turtle, the administration said.

Although the box turtle is more commonly known in Mandarin as the “snake-eating turtle,” it feeds on a variety of foods other than snakes, including vegetables, mushrooms, insects and earthworms, the administration said, adding that it also scavenges the remains of larger animals.

The box turtle’s egg-laying season runs from this month to August, and each female turtle can produce up to four eggs per batch, the administration said.

The turtle grows very slowly and matures late in life, but adults have a very low mortality rate and can live more than 50 years if not hunted, the administration said.

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