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No. 108, 29th November 2013

1. Malaysia: Malaysia probes wildlife smuggler Lizard King

SOURCE: – DATE: 22nd November, 2013

A prominent figure in the illicit smuggling of endangered reptiles is being officially investigated by Malaysia's wildlife department. Anson Wong, also known as the Lizard King, and his wife, Cheah Bing Shee, were the focus of a year-long investigation into the illegal trade in wildlife. Wong, dubbed "the Pablo Escobar of animal trafficking", has been caught twice by authorities and has served eight years in jails in the US and Malaysia. Released last year, Wong is alleged to be back in business, taking charge of his old network of smuggling contacts. TRAFFIC, an alliance of the WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature , has called on the Malaysian government to declare all permits issued to companies believed to be linked with the pair. The illegal trade in wildlife is thought to be worth at least $19bn a year, a sum rivalled only by the black markets in drugs, counterfeit goods and people. The industry undermines conservation efforts, threatens the rule of law and poses a risk to public health, according to the US State Department. Other distributors tied to Wong allege that corrupt wildlife and customs officials take payments to allow poachers and smugglers get away with their crimes.

Link to this web article online (English)

return of the lizard king
© Tom Bannigan/Al Jazeera
lizard king
© Al Jazeera

2. China: Tesco in cruelty storm over China turtle sales: Store accused of butchering or suffocating animals in front of customers

SOURCE: – DATE: 22nd November, 2013

Tesco is at the centre of cruelty allegations over its stores in China, where turtles are being butchered or suffocated in front of customers. In some instances the reptiles are plucked from tanks and triple-wrapped in plastic bags, where they suffocate over a period of an hour. The UK-Based One World Wildlife is demanding Tesco reassess its business ethics and stop selling live creatures in their supermarkets. The group is behind a petition calling on the chain's chief executive, Philip Clarke, to stop the turtle sales, which has been signed by some 45,000 people. It says the supermarket giant should take responsibility for all stages of these creatures ‘tortured existence' from being farmed in terrible conditions to being sold alive or butchered in store. The fresh water turtles are shipped from farms in Dalian, a Northeast China coastal city. The meat sells for £6-£10 ($9.7-$16.2; 207,000-345,000 VND) a kilo. Tesco customer Wang Shen, a 30-year-old from Beijing, said: ‘It's no big deal selling live turtles and bull frogs in the supermarket. Each country has its own tradition. The British people are against killing turtles or bull frogs because they don't have a tradition of eating them. What do the British people think about eating cows and sheep?' Tesco insisted it operates to higher welfare standards than any other retailer in China and that its policies are driving up standards in the country's food supply industry.

Link to this web article online (English)


3. Mozambique, Africa: Chinese “managed” turtle butchery discovered on Lake Malawi

SOURCE: – DATE: 22nd November, 2013

Within only the last 3 months it appears that Chinese animal traffickers have put out orders for as many turtles as can be netted. Mature egg-bearing females who should be laying on the beaches, are instead being netted in the shallows. This sudden and massive slaughter of Zambezi flap-shelled Turtles (Cycloderma frenatum) has been recently discovered in November, 2013 on the shores of Lake Malawi. These turtles are protected by law, despite their inappropriately low CITES ranking. Malawi could enforce large fines, confiscation of equipment and prison sentences etc. As some of these animals are destined for consumption as a gourmet food product, whilst other products are in great demand for Chinese traditional medicine, they could easily share the same distribution networks. It is already accepted that the largest networks of global animal traffickers are active across Africa, including Malawi and its neighbours. Previously any turtles accidentally caught in nets would be put back in the water although locals might have eaten turtle eggs. Local fishermen are being paid MK1000 (about $2.50; 53 thousand VND) per turtle, which has led to a gold rush feeling in the local community

Link to this web article online (English)


4. New York, USA: Under the microscope   : Studying turtle neurogenesis may aid research on human brains

DATE: 21st November, 2013

Recently, work is being done at the Stony Brook University's Department of Neurobiology and Behaviour   on neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons. Work on this subject is also taking place in the Psychology Department in the lab of Alice Powers. Her studies come with a twist. While many in the neurogenesis field study mice, rats or primates, Dr. Powers studies turtles. Like mammals, turtles are known to form new neurons throughout adulthood. But unlike mammals, which only form new cells in two areas, turtles form new neurons in many different regions of the brain. While neurogenesis is known to occur in turtles, the process of forming newborn cells is little understood in these reptiles. To investigate, Dr. Powers used a paradigm known to increase neurogenesis in mammals and applied it to turtles. Ultimately, learning about the structure and function of brains in animals much older than humans evolutionarily will help scientists better understand why the human brain developed the way it did. A better understanding of what less developed brains can achieve could shed light on what the added benefits are of the more developed regions found in the human brain.

Link to this web article online (English)


5.  Sea turtle said to suffer virus caused by human pollution

DATE: 27th November, 2013

A sick green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) caught off the coast of Panacea last week has quickly become the focus of marine specialists and surgeons rushing to save the critter's life from a virus said to be the result of human pollution. The 14-inch-long, 15-pound turtle is now in the care of museum surgeons after its tumor-covered body got caught in a mullet fisherman's net off the coast of Panacea. The turtle is between 2 and 4 years old and was infected by a herpes-like virus called Fibropapilloma. It's not exactly known how the disease spreads, meaning that lab managers were careful not to mix the turtle with the rest of the species by placing it in a 200-gallon tank. The effort to save the turtle even extended outside the lab. A group of volunteers combed the beaches to find the turtle's native food of gracilaria algae and sea lettuce in order to ensure it was getting the proper nutrition. The turtle was then taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on the morning of the 27th of November for observation and laser surgery to remove the growths on the outside of its body. Surgeons will also determine whether there are any internal growths, something could be fatal. The disease is common amongst green sea turtles, caused by human dumping sewage and chemicals into ocean waters over time.

Link to this web article online (English)

turtle neurogenesis

sick turtle
© Gulf Specimen Marine Lab

6. Honey helping to heal injured sea turtles

SOURCE: – DATE: 23rd November, 2013

Most sea turtles live out their lives, which can span a century, without ever encountering a honey bee. But others, namely those that end up as patients at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, owe their lives to bees. That's because the center treats sea turtles with honey. While not always the first line of defense, it's a regularly used tool, said veterinarian Terry Norton, director of the center. Honey has many properties that make it great for healing wounds, including its acidity, which kills bacteria and fungi. Its high concentration of glucose "helps pull debris and exudate out of the wound," Norton said. It also carries the antiseptic qualities of hydrogen peroxide and with good reason: "Bees inject an enzyme into the honey called glucose oxidase, which converts glucose to hydrogen peroxide.” Norton also uses honey to raise blood sugar levels in his patients. The center, on Jekyll Island, gets regular donations of fresh honey and honey comb from local bee keepers.

Link to this web article online (English)

7. Quang Binh province, Vietnam: High rate of successful wildlife rescue

DATE: 26th November, 2013

Since its establishment 10 years ago the Centre of Animal Rescue, Conservation and Development at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has released 500 wild animals back to the wild and transferred 110 animals to other rescue centres 110 animals, hitting a success rate of 80% in terms of successful rescue operations. Over 800 wild animals belonging to 46 species have been rescued including 20 species in Vietnam Red Book and 25 species protected by Decree 32 such as langurs, box turtles, Owston's civets, Asian black bears, etc. However, currently lacking human and financial resources as well as inadequate infrastructure the management of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is forced to delay the development of animal rescue and conservation activities.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)


8.  Leather-back sea turtle no longer Critically Endangered

DATE: 26th November, 2013

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has updated its "Red List" of threatened species, with good news for some species like which has improved from critically endangered to vulnerable on a global level. Compared with the abundant leatherbacks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, the east and west Pacific Ocean subpopulations are both in severe decline due to egg harvesting and incidental capture, IUCN officials said. Almost all leatherback populations around the globe are considered critically endangered and vulnerable to extinction or are considered data deficient. Only the Northwest Atlantic leatherback sea turtle populations are considered of "least concern" as they number about 34,000 mature adults. Based on the apparent stability of these leatherbacks, the worldwide population was changed from "critically endangered" to "vulnerable." However, as few as 2,071 mature adult leatherback sea turtles (males and females) remain in the entire Pacific Ocean, and the new IUCN Red List assessment predicts a 96 to 99 percent total population decline by 2040. Both the Eastern and Western Pacific leatherback populations were ranked as critically endangered populations in urgent need of protection from fisheries and direct harvest to avoid extinction.The Red List Assessment names fisheries bycatch as the biggest threat to leatherbacks globally, along with human consumption of eggs, meat, or other products, and coastal development followed by pollution and climate change. Scientists have warned that the Pacific leatherback sea turtle may become extinct within 10-30 years if its adult mortality from industrial fishing bycatch is not drastically reduced.

Link 1 to this web article online (English)

Link 2 to this web article online (English)


© Guy Marcovaldi/IUCN

9. Kanpur City, India: 400 rare smuggled turtles seized from Janata express at Kanpur railway station

SOURCE: – DATE: 25th November, 2013

With the arrest of seven female smugglers, as many as 400 rare turtles stuffed in jute and air bags were seized by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) from the Delhi-Howrah bound Janata Express, at Kanpur Central railway station on the 25th of November. The women are natives of Kolkata and were on their way to Howrah in West Bengal to deliver the consignment. They have been taken into custody for further investigation of the case. The turtles were later handed over to Forest department officials, who will release the animals into the Ganges. Officials hope that the arrest will unearth new information about the turtle smuggling ring. "We are also trying to get more information about other smuggling routes, mode of transportation and the purpose of the smuggling," said a Government Railway Police official.

Link to this web article online (English)

10. Phu Yen Province, Vietnam: 56.7kg wildlife released

SOURCE: – DATE: 27th November, 2013

According to Mr Tran Duy Tan, Director of the Forest Protection Unit of Song Hinh District, Phu Yen Province, 56.7kg of wildlife was released to Ea So Nature Reserve in the night of 26th of November. The released wildlife included turtles, snakes, porcupines, and weasels, which were all confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade in Song Hinh commune, Song Hinh district.

Link to this web article online (Vietnamese)

11. Sambalpur, India: Turtles released in Hirakud reservoir

SOURCE: - DATE: 28th November, 2013 On the 27th of November 2013 the forest department released six turtles in the reservoir water of Hirakud dam in Sambalpur district. Acting on a tip off, forest officials raided Pitapali village and rescued the Indian softshell turtles (Nilssonia gangetica). "The poachers had left the turtles in the water source with their legs tied with ropes. They were to be smuggled to Kolkata," said a forest ranger. The turtles were released in the reservoir water after veterinary doctors found them to be medically fit, he added. The forest officer said each turtle weighed 20 to 30 kg. "There is a huge demand for this variety of turtle in West Bengal and we are on the lookout for a smuggling group from Kolkata that have been active in this region.”

Link to this web article online (English)

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