Fri, Nov 30, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Temple accused of turtle abuse

COIN POISONING?The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan said that the temple should follow the spirit of war god Guan Gong and be kind to the animals

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Sea turtles sit in a tank in Dayi Temple in Penghu in an undated photograph.

Photo courtesy of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan

A Penghu temple has been abusing endangered sea turtles for three decades by keeping them in a pond full of coins from people seeking to have their wishes granted, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan said yesterday.

The design and water quality of the basement-level pond are particularly unhealthy for turtles, society deputy chief executive Yu-Min Chen (陳玉敏) told a news conference in Taipei.

“Ten turtles have died at the temple in 30 years. For animals that can live up to 100 years in the wild, the death rate is highly abnormal,” Chen said.

Temple and government records showed that the temple has raised at least 18 sea turtles and currently has eight: five green sea turtles, one loggerhead sea turtle and two hawksbill sea turtles, she said.

If the temple does not improve their living conditions, the Penghu County Government should not renew its license to display endangered animals after the current one expires at the end of the month, the society said.

The pond is in an exhibit area in the basement of Dayi Temple in Jhuwan Village (竹灣).

The temple said that the exhibit area — named the Lotus Coral Cave — was built in 1986 with a budget of NT$1.08 million (US$35,019 at the current exchange rate) and decorated with coral, whale ribs and lotus lamps.

While the pond’s water is already visibly filthy, coins tossed in have further contaminated it with heavy metals, causing high levels of nickel to be found in the turtles’ blood, Chen said.

“Sea turtles are solitary animals that do not interact with each other except when they mate. This is like putting them in a prison. Confining them to such a small space causes them to fight over food and injure each other,” she said.

Due to the pool’s small size, turtles are constantly piled on top of one another and scraping their fins against the walls, she said.

“In the wild, sea turtles can dive deeper than 100m, but the pool is so shallow that they are almost touching the floor when they swim,” she said.

The temple in June last year agreed to several measures to improve the pool, including expanding it to an outdoor area to allow access to sunlight, but so far “nothing has been delivered,” she said.

“If the turtles’ living conditions are not improved, the Penghu County Government should assess the possibility of transferring the animals to a different facility or releasing them into the wild,” Chen said.

The temple in 1986 began raising sea turtles that were accidentally caught by fishermen and has been allowed to keep them, because the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法), promulgated in 1989, was not retroactive, she said.

While sea turtles are not linked to Guan Gong (關公), a Chinese god of war worshiped at the temple, they are believed to bring good luck to seafarers, which is important in a fishing town, she said.

“The temple should follow the spirit of Guan Gong and be kind by allowing the turtles to be moved to a better environment and let experts assess the possibility of releasing them to the wild,” she said, urging the public to support the cause.

“The temple has received permission from the government to keep and display such turtles. Having been held captive for too long, the turtles do not have the ability to survive in the wild,” the temple’s management committee said.

The turtles undergo health checks by experts at the Penghu Marine Biology Research Center, the Penghu Animal Disease Control Center and National Taiwan Ocean University every year, the committee said.

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