On June 17th this year, 3,831 critically endangered Palawan Forest Turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis) were confiscated from a smuggling ring on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. These turtles were poached from northern villages and were en route to pet markets in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and possibly Europe.
The Turtle Conservancy is thrilled to announce that of the original Palawan Forest Turtles confiscated from poachers this past June, only six remain in captivity at the Katala Foundation in Narra. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Dr. Sabine Schoppe, her coworkers, and volunteers at the Katala Foundation, almost 90% of the animals were able to be released back into the wild, in protected streams, where they belong.
The Katala Foundation is monitoring the release sites to assess how the released turtles are healing and surviving. They are also working hard to ensure that poachers do not find the release sites for these turtles. Several eggs laid by female turtles during their rehabilitation have just begun to hatch. Researchers hope to learn more about the turtle’s biology from these hatchlings. The Palawan Forest Turtle has never been bred successfully in captivity, and solving this puzzle may prove critical to their survival as a species.
Unfortunately, on October 18th, 2015, another confiscation of over 900 turtles (including 20 Palawan Forest Turtles) was made by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). PCSD officials made the bust in the city of Taytay in Palawan, and attribute the smuggling to alleged wildlife traffickers Joel Sulayaw, Gerald Favila and Benjie Dimasupil. The animals are purchased by poachers from local villagers for as little at US$3 per pound. Unfortunately many villagers often subsist on less than $20 per week, and must rely on supplemental income to survive. Once out of the country, the turtles may fetch prices as high as $50 each in China and over $1,200 in foreign markets like Japan and Europe.
As for the confiscation made in June, no offenders have been arrested or prosecuted.
What might have become a terrible tragedy turned into an amazing success story, due to the collaboration between organizations and individuals to save these turtles. We could not have done this important work without the incredibly generous support of donations from so many – thank you!