Taiwan is to set up its first turtle sanctuary, officials said on Sunday, after the second seizure within weeks of more than 2,000 of the protected creatures, which had been bound for dinner plates in China.
Coast Guard Administration personnel on Saturday discovered 2,439 Asian yellow pond and yellow-lined box turtles in a fishing boat in Donggang, a port in Pingtung County.
The skipper of the boat, bound for China, and three Indonesian crew were arrested. They could face jail terms of up to five years plus a fine of up to NT$1.5 million (US$50,400), according to the Wildlife Protection Act (野生動物保育法).
Coast guard personnel seized 2,626 rare turtles on board another boat last month, as they were being taken off the island, in what the authorities said was their biggest ever seizure of smuggled turtles.
They were to be sold as a delicacy or used as an ingredient in China for traditional medicine, officials said.
The sanctuary on the Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) outside Taipei will open next month.
“The preservation of rare turtles in the [reservoir] area is already relatively better” compared with other areas in the nation, forestry bureau official Kuan Li-hao said.
“Once the sanctuary is set up, patrols will be stepped up there to deter poaching,” Kuan said.
“As winter approaches, the demand for turtles in China, especially in the south, is rising,” Kuan said.
Because the number of wild turtles is in sharp decline in China, market prices have surged to about five times those of Taiwan.
The two types of turtles seized in the past three weeks are in the second tier of Taiwan’s national three-category wildlife protection list, meaning they are deemed rare and valuable. The first category is for endangered species.